01/03/2013 07:56 am ET Updated Mar 05, 2013

Resolutions For The Ages


Happy holidays! And good luck with the annual self-improvement lie-fest known as the "New Year's Resolution?" This year, maybe it's time to try something different. Really, how many times can you promise to eat more broccoli or spend a full eight minutes on your abs?

Since 2012 was such a tremendous year for progressive public policies that aim to transform global population aging from a crisis into an opportunity, it would be a shame if 2013 failed to build from this momentum. From the WHO, to the UN, to the EU , APEC, OECD, and more, population aging has gone from a back-burner "issue" to something that is top-of-mind for people all over the world. Even the estimable Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of Blackrock, on Bloomberg's Street Smart focusing on America's Fiscal Cliff, noted that it is the Japanese and Chinese demographic cliffs which will undo them in the next decade. And, the rest of us as well, if we don't profoundly change our approaches to 21st century economics on the basis of our "aging populations"

But to change population aging from "peril" to "promise," as challenged at 2012's World Economic Forum Meeting in Davos, where the similarly titled book was launched, 2013 will require much, much more. To make population aging the great driver of positive change in the 21st century, there needs to be further commitment to action -- action at the high public policy level, and action at local neighborhood and family levels -- as described in this project where "grandparents are being wired" for a more active and healthier aging. As we set off into 2013, here are some New Year's Resolutions that could really make a difference:

The Baby Boomers: "This year, I'll stop thinking about golfing in Florida and start thinking about how to stay active and productive." With Boomers (all 450 million worldwide) now living into their 80s and 90s, the bygone ideas of retiring in the 60s is economically unfeasible - not to mention deleterious to one's social, mental, and physical health. A longer, more active aging process will be a boon to Boomers themselves and the rest of society at large. The Boomers inherited a herculean economy, and, if they can stay productive, that's exactly what they can hand off to their children and grandchildren.

Generation X and Y: "This year, I'll plan differently. The ways that I think about work, education, and health must adapt to a career that may last up to six decades." Indeed, perhaps the greatest shortfall of 2012 was failing to recognize that population aging isn't just about "more old people." Fully understood, population aging matters to people of all ages because it is about a transformation of society itself. It's a consequence of those low birth rates around the globe that structurally change our public policy construction, from the European social welfare state to America's entitlements, which simply cannot work in a time when there are so many more of us over 60 than in the 21st century working age cohorts. What we are seeing today is only a presage of what will emerge throughout the 21st century, and today's younger generations must prepare. How can we not, in this new demographic reality, truly change the retirement age even as we re-imagine a life course of ongoing learning and education for working well beyond that infamous 65 of Bismarck's 19th century idea.

Business leaders: "This year, we'll develop new kinds of career paths that capitalize upon the potential of an aging workforce." As cutting-edge businesses have already shown, an aging workforce can be a competitive advantage. But business leaders must be proactive. They need to create the right kinds of policies -- financial, educational, social, frameworks for caregiving, programs for wellness - to keep an aging workforce happy, committed, and productive. The "age-friendly workplace" is the future of work, and businesses would be savvy to get ahead of the curve.

Public policy elites: "This year, we'll ensure that aging is seen as a question of economic growth and development, not just health and social wellbeing." Population aging is ushering in an entirely new structure of society, and 20th-century norms will bankrupt 21st century balance sheets. From the U.S.'s so-called "fiscal cliff" to Europe's "recession" to Japan's next "lost decade," developed nations can no longer afford 20th century programs that rely on last century's ratios of old-to-young. China, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil and other emerging market leaders also take note. You are aging far more quickly than did the developed nations, and 21st century growth cannot be sustained without policies to prepare for a changed demographics.

Through innovation, optimism and a focus on how the 21st century must culturally embed a "new middle age," we can get this right. But, it will take leadership from across multiple disciplines of society. Population aging can become the greatest success story of the 21st century. Let's hope the resolutions this year spark another year of commitment. Commitments that go to the heart of what population aging truly represents -- a consequence of living longer and stunningly low birth rates that result in a transformational century of more old than young -- and why therefore it is as central to economic growth for China, Europe and the U.S. as all of us globally. Larry Fink was right, but not just because we can't afford for 60, 70 or 80s to behave as they did a century ago; but because the arithmetic of more over 60 than under 14, fundamentally changes the dynamics of economics and social welfare in our time.