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The Opportunity in Aging

With the pandemic and technological change upending labor markets around the world, midcareer workers over 45 increasingly find themselves out in the cold. But this neglect is not only morally wrong and socially risky; it also represents a massive missed economic opportunity.

WASHINGTON, DC – Media coverage of the world’s aging population, especially in wealthy OECD countries, tends to be angst-ridden. Headline writers and researchers warn of a coming “silver tsunami,” detailing – often in apocalyptic terms – all the burdens that aging poses for society, from paying for pensions to managing rising health-care costs. When the discussion turns to older workers, an often-expressed fear is that automation and digitization will accelerate layoffs, swelling the ranks of those who have been cast adrift mid-career.

But all this handwringing must not be allowed to silence the case for optimism. Given that older workers have enormous productivity potential, employers should view them not as liabilities but as assets. Recent reports from the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) and the OECD have shone a spotlight on the hundreds of billions of dollars of GDP that are lost annually as a result of economic inactivity among older workers – and these foregone gains will rise into the trillions in the coming decades. Moreover, reskilling advocates point out that training (typically older) employees for new tasks is often cheaper than laying off current employees and hiring new (typically younger) ones.

And yet, the world is collectively failing to create the more age-inclusive workplaces that would enable us to seize these opportunities. What needs to change to make that happen?

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