According to statistics from the United Nations, centenarians are the fastest-growing demographic group of the world’s population.
In 2015, the number of people aged 100 or older was projected to be 451,000 worldwide. Today, the U.S. and Japan each have almost 100,000 centenarians. By 2050, the global estimate for people aged 100 or older is 3.7 million.
What does living to 100 mean for the workplace?
People who live longer, healthier lives may need or want to work longer to support their continued longevity. As a result, the workplace is experiencing increasing pressure to change. Instead of a retire by 60 ideology, there is the natural desire and necessity of a 60- to 80-year career.
Yet, given rampant age bias in the workplace–and across all facets of life, including healthcare and entertainment–the acceptance of a new workplace reality is slow. A national AARP poll reported that older workers perceive age discrimination rates much higher than in the past.
Current data shows that 78% of older workers say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace, the highest level since AARP began tracking this question in 2003.
Not only does this hurt older people, but it also impacts companies that lose out on available talent. Not to mention, it paints a gloomy picture for anyone younger.
Falling Fertility Rates
When you combine this demographic change with the fact that birth rates continue to decline for almost every country around the world, it’s easy to understand how the average age of talent is rising.
The Pew Charitable Trusts reports significant drops in fertility rates across the U.S.
- Forty-three states recorded their lowest general fertility rate, representing annual births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, in at least three decades in 2020.
- Every state except North Dakota experienced losses when the most recently published 2020 rates were compared to averages over the decade ending in 2010.
- The severity of the declines over the past decade varies greatly, with Western states generally experiencing the most severe fertility rate drops. Arizona’s and Utah’s declines were more than double the 50-state average.
A thriving economy needs workers. Fewer births mean fewer workers. Along with workplace age discrimination and less worker immigration, U.S. companies can’t find enough workers to fill vacancies.
The challenge is not only about giving all ages access to employment opportunities so that people remain self-reliant. It is also about economic business sustainability. How can companies stay competitive if they don’t have the talent they need?
While employers lament a talent shortage, they are scrambling to increase talent attraction and retention. They offer new incentives and promises of increased flexibility and an inclusive company culture. However, most of these efforts ignore one key factor that could make a significant difference–including talent across the age spectrum.
Instead, talent management processes such as recruiting, hiring, promoting and retaining tend to exclude individuals under 24 or over 40. The result is a 16-year criterion for talent.
Preparing for the Future of Work
It’s crucial for company leaders to understand age demographics, just as it is to understand other vital demographic figures. That means dissecting age demographics according to the talent pool, hires, development, promotion and retention.
It means that leaders need to know if the average age in the workplace has increased, stayed the same or decreased.
With the continued projection of longevity, people won’t have a choice but to work longer because governments cannot sustain 40-year retirements on a mass scale. The French Senate just adopted President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular pension reform plan, increasing the retirement age from 62 to 64 over the next seven years. Since Macron announced his plan in early January, the country has been engulfed in demonstrations and protests, shutting down mass transportation and other key services such as garbage collection.
Increasing the retirement age only works when employers are willing to hire and retain older workers. In the U.S., the latest Census Bureau data shows that the only group to experience increased poverty was Americans aged 65 and older.
Around the world, countries need to amp up age discrimination protections. In the U.S., Congress has two pieces of legislation to remedy the problem. The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act or POWADA and Protect Older Job Applicants or POJA.
POWADA makes it easier for complainants to prove age discrimination, and POJA prohibits employers from limiting, segregating, or classifying job applicants based on an applicant’s age. The latter would also require the EEOC to study and report on claims received from job applicants involving age discrimination–a category currently ignored.
Both bills are long overdue but necessary to make age protection meaningful, especially regarding age discrimination in hiring. Consequently, both pieces of legislation were passed to the Senate, where they expired in committee.
Earlier this year, Heather Tinsley-Fix, senior advisor, employer engagement at AARP, testified before the commissioners of the EEOC. She concluded her testimony by advocating for the passage of POJA and POWADA.
In the meantime, companies can no longer deny that age, like other protected dimensions of diversity, deserves leadership attention and action. If doing the right thing is not reason enough, the changing demographics leave no other choice.