According to 2012 figures released by the UN on Population Aging and Development, by 2050 the number of people worldwide aged 60 years or over will increase to 2 billion, outnumbering the number of children (0-14 years) for the first time in human history. Based on declining birth rates and rising life expectancies, the OECD predicts that by 2050 4% of the world population (and 10% of the OECD nations population) will be over 80 years old (OECD 2011, page 62). By 2030 the European Union is expected to be home to 30% of the global population over 65 (European Commission, The World in 2025, page 9).

Given that the percentage of the population active in the labour market is one of the key drivers of future economic growth, an ageing population will pose challenges for the growth prospects and world market competitiveness of many advanced economies (speech by a member of the ECB Executive Board, 2010). It is also suggested that demographic decline and a rising elderly population will compel governments and employers to maximise the contributions of new technologies to growth whilst placing a greater emphasis on retraining and lifelong learning and the recruitment of groups with lower workforce participation (RAND 2004, page 1).

A 2011 paper from the Harvard Program on the Global Demography of Ageing identifies a further trend – the “compression of morbidity” (see page 2). This describes the process by which technological and medical advances, combined with healthy lifestyles have both increased longevity, but also compressed the so called “morbid years” (the period during which the elderly lose functional independence through mental and physical deterioration) into a smaller part of people’s lifecycles. This means that significant numbers of employees will be able to work productively into later life – particularly when this work depends on problem solving, communication and collaboration as opposed to manual labour.

Decentralised and flexible working patterns such as telecommuting (2011 report from Japanese Ministry for Communications, page 3), alongside advances in networked telehealth and telecare systems (see Digital Agenda Action 78), and the emergence of progressively more intuitive user interfaces (such as those offered through touch screen and tablet computing – The Computer Journal 2009, page 847) will all enhance the capacity of the elderly to remain economically active for longer. In addition, the rising proportion of those over 60 in the developed world will lead to an increasing amount of digital content and services being directed at this target market (Harvard 2011, page 9).