The demographic shift to a much older global population rolls along far too quietly

Still croaky from apparently not COVID but a beast of a cold/flu combo I picked up in France; where better huh? We’re all in virus-avoidance mode, still, so I can only hope you manage to avoid all the nastiness out there and have the merriest Christmas possible.

This is The Big Middle, the podcast free-ranging around all aspects of messy, glorious life in the bigger middle. I loosely define that as mid-40s through mid-70s.

I found myself explaining the theme of this podcast a lot in recent weeks. Before I got sick, I had meetings with switched-on folk I’d have thought would have twigged to the fact we’re in the midst of a demographic shift that demands a cultural and institutional revolution that’s slow to come. They were surprised when I trotted out this milestone statistic from the World Health Organisation: there are now more over-60s in the world than there are under fives. That happened last year. By 2030, one in six of us will be 60 or older.

The life model we’ve made is hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with this new reality. It was designed for 50 and 60 year lives, not the century the babies of today are likely to experience and the 80s and 90s we might be lucky to get.

We jam everything into our first 50 years and then nothing’s defined bar the fuzzy notion of retirement and, in your late 60s, state pension access. We haven’t properly reconfigured our institutions and expectations to reflect longer lives in relative good health – relative to a century ago.

I started this podcast three years ago to explore this cultural and structural disconnect. My first guest was Geoff Filkin, then the chair of the UK charity The Centre for Ageing Better. He’d written a manifesto for better longer lives. Lord Filkin has moved on to other roles advancing his manifesto but its themes remain central to the demographic upheaval of now and the future, despite the haircut COVID has given to global life expectancy statistics. My first question to him was about the nature and scale of that upheaval.


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