The Silver Economy Is a New Path to Economic Growth That Can Be Achieved Through Positive Synergies Across Policies, According to OECD Experts at the Oxford Consultation on “The Silver Economy: Facts, Challenges, and Opportunities”

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Global Coalition on Aging, and Harris Manchester College at Oxford University Set Positive Agenda for Ageing as a Driver of Productivity, Wealth, and Social Value

OXFORD, ENGLAND (1 July 2014) – The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA) convened on 26 June an expert consultation in partnership with the Harris Manchester College at Oxford University to develop concrete solutions and accelerate innovation around creating a Silver Economy where ageing populations are part of the economic growth equation. Experts across business, academic, government, and non-profit sectors mapped out the opportunities of shifting perceptions of ageing from dependent costs to society to active, engaged, and productive resources.

The expert consultation follows as an outcome of the OECD-APEC Workshop on “Anticipating the Special Needs of the 21st Century Silver/Ageing Economy” held in Tokyo in September 2012, which recognized the importance of viewing ageing as an opportunity for innovation and growth and will continue the OECD engagement on this seminal issue for 21st-century economic growth and social value creation.

“Across the globe, notions about population ageing are particularly loaded with emotional prejudices. Outdated stereotypes assume older people to be ill and unproductive to society,” said Professor Axel Börsch-Supan, PhD, Director for the Economics of Aging of the Max-Plank Institute for Social Law and Social Policy. “In fact, the contrary is true. It is the large variation which should give rise to concern.”

“At any age we can be productive and engaged – and those over 60 are no exception. With this understanding, there is incredible potential for the role ageing populations can play in economic growth and value creation,” said Michael W. Hodin, PhD, Executive Director of GCOA. “Business and governments alike will need to make changes in the workforce, in the design of services and products and how they are delivered, and in the perceptions of what it means to age. The proper changes will have huge positive impacts on society and grow the Silver Economy.”

The over-60 population in OECD countries has been steadily increasing over the past several decades. Currently 22 percent of the OECD population is 60 or older, and by 2050 this ratio will rise to 32.5 percent. Many OECD countries will be over 40 percent as birth rates continue to plummet and longevity is extended.

As the over-60 age cohort grows, operating by traditional assumptions will be fiscally unsustainable. According to the group gathered at the Harris Manchester College, Oxford University, a thriving Silver Economy is a realistic possibility but will depend on which policy options are adopted and how people react to them.

“Numerous initiatives presented at the workshop show that ageing populations are a significant resource, and the demographic shift is increasingly perceived as an opportunity for services innovation and enhanced social value creation,” said Elettra Ronchi, Senior Policy Analyst at the OECD. “Success depends, however, on a coherent policy environment. Alignment between governance, finance, policy, business, and technology development is needed to achieve appropriate innovative solutions.”

“As attitudes toward ageing are shifting, innovative approaches emerge, and the expert consultation brought many of these ideas to light,” said Ralph Waller, Principal of Harris Manchester College and Pro-Vice-Chancellor elect of the University of Oxford.  “For instance, older workers are a steadily increasing part of the workforce. Governments have a responsibility to eliminate barriers, and technology has a role in creating working environments to ensure longer working lives and societal contribution. At Harris Manchester College, we were delighted to provide the academic and intellectual environment in which this seminal topic of our 21st-century society could be discussed.”

The “Expert Consultation on the Silver Economy” participants identified possible solutions, forged new partnerships, captured views on key issues and developed concrete ideas for a reinvented view of how society can optimistically address the challenges presented by the  world’s ageing population. Participants also discussed what is likely to happen if one does not act today.

Some ideas discussed included overarching concepts such as a jobs and skills strategy that takes account of new technological developments and the economic and social potential of the older populations, awareness and prevention programmes to encourage longer and healthier lives.

Experts agreed that the OECD can make full use of its multidisciplinary expertise, evidence-based approaches to policy making, and peer learning working methods to provide decision makers with the necessary tools and instruments to achieve a thriving silver economy.

The participants focused discussion on such critical needs as:

  • Reskilling older populations for increased participation in the digital economy and the workforce;
  • Expanding and nurturing the entrepreneurial nature of a silver economy through innovative financing instruments, including social impact investing;
  • Promoting technological solutions and social innovation for greater inclusion and participation within the community while valuing age as an asset, both socially and economically; and
  • Understanding that healthy and active ageing is a life-course goal which applies to all ages, not just older adults.

View the summary report from the consultation here.

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