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Preparing for the ‘silver tsunami’ across the globe

September 24, 2012
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We’ve all heard or seen the statistic—in the United States, more than 10,000 baby boomers will be turning 65 every day for the next 20 years, resulting in a “silver tsunami” that will affect everything from television advertising to senior living design. But what about outside the United States?  Is the silver tsunami landing on other shores?

Historically, the elderly have comprised about three to four percent of the total population.  Today, that figure is about 15 percent in the developed world, according to a recent global aging report from the World Economic Forum. By 2050, that number is projected to rise to 25 percent with some countries, like Germany, Italy, Japan and South Korea reaching an astounding 35–40 percent. Over the next 40 years, the global population over 60 years old will more than double, from 760 million to a staggering two billion people. And, for the first time ever, the number of individuals over 60 years of age will outnumber those under 15 years old. In that same time period, the number of individuals over 80 years old will go from 110 million (1.6 percent of the total population) to 400 million (four percent of the total population).

As you can imagine, the cost of aging also is rising globally.  By 2040, here’s what the benefits for the elderly will cost as a percentage of gross domestic product (the top five countries):

  • Spain:  26.1 percent
  • Italy:  24.7 percent
  • France:  23.5 percent
  • Netherlands:  23.2 percent
  • Germany:  21.7 percent

(By comparison, the United States will be at 16.3 percent.)

Countries have responded by implementing changes to help address the economic impact of aging. For example, France, Greece, Ireland and the England are in the process of raising the legal age for retirement. Another example is the current effort in the U.S. to enact healthcare reform. These and other efforts remain critical given the diminishing number of productive workers with respect to the number of elderly.  In 1950, there were 12 workers per elderly person; today there are nine workers for every elderly person. By 2050, that ratio will drop dramatically to four workers per elderly person.

By most measures, the silver tsunami is not only landing on other shores, it’s crashing on them. In countries like Japan and Germany, senior living services are well established already, but as these and other countries continue to experience accelerated rates of aging, the strain on services will increase. 

All of this statistical data points to a growing need for senior living services. However, we also see, read and hear the call for aging in place and more specifically, aging at home. Home healthcare, home care services and the PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) program are examples of services which meet the need that baby boomers have expressed to allow them to age at home. The desire to age in place is a universal one that traverses all cultural and geographic boundaries.


Craig Fukushima

Craig Fukushima


Craig T. Fukushima, NHA, is partner at The Fox Group, a consulting practice that serves a wide...