01/24/2013 02:15 pm ET Updated Mar 26, 2013

Markets Working Across All Ages

When Deborah Needleman accepted the role of Editor-in-Chief of the New York Times Style Magazine this fall, the publishing, writing and style world started impatiently to wonder how she would apply her genius creativity and professional aplomb. And, for all the speculation, who would have guessed that her debut issue would feature "seniors" -- yes, old people! Yet, the answer may have less to do with some creative insight or nod to society doyens than good old self-interest and market demographics. To wit, the characterization in one of that sector's prominent news outlets:

79-year-old socialite and sister to Jackie O., Lee Radziwill, will make the premiere cover of Needleman's version of T. What's more, we hear that another upcoming cover is slated to feature 82-year-old socialite and philanthropist, Deeda Blair... quite the departure from [the mag's former] ultra-hip covers featuring the likes of Esperanza Spalding, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lana Del Rey. However, with an average age for readership at age 54...

Is it time to redefine "hip," which may not be reserved only for the young. All this is changing, as we saw in a recent spate of pop culture's finest from James Bond to Mick Jagger, and my personal favorite, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel , which featured a star-studded cast of seniors who ventured to India for an active, exciting and awesome new period of life.

And so it is that, three years into the "Boomer Bulge," those 77 million baby boomers in America, 450 million people worldwide, are challenging the traditional notion of what was once the magic "retirement age" and will continue to do so over the next two or three decades. Nor is it surprising that markets everywhere are beginning to notice and react to the seminal social and economic transformation of the 21st century where there will be more of us over 60 than under 14. This fact certainly has not escaped Ms. Needleman, as she continues to lead the ever-hip and always with-it world of fashion where apparently, the market opportunities associated with the exploding adult demographic is have huge impact.

And why not? This certainly is a demographic, it might be further noted, which is behaving in our 21st century far differently than its parents or grandparents. One that considers itself neither dependent nor disabled merely as a consequence of turning a certain age. If this represents a profound culture change, perhaps there is even some hope that our political leaders in DC, Brussels, Tokyo or Beijing will also get the message that a person's age in the 21st century will not automatically be equated with budget-breaking benefits and subsidies. And if we thought there were challenges around the 20th century notion of age and retirement, it's even worse on the health side. Perhaps Ms. Needleman's market-driven culture shift where adults are in the ascendancy will have impact on the public policy world that still seems stuck in an earlier era.

Yet, it's reassuring that the solutions to the aging populations possible "peril" will be found in the "promise" of market responses to the role this demographic cohort demands for itself as more active and engaged than 20th century public policy could ever have imagined.

Michael Hodin writes the Age and Reason blog for The Fiscal Times