When I moved into France from my native Colombia, I was astounded at the number of old ladies with dogs and the paucity of mothers with babies and teenagers. Agequake confirms that this perception is just another aspect of the huge changes that new demographics will bring on within the next 20 years. The good news is that people are living longer. The bad news is that they are retiring at a younger age. And that, the longer they live, the more medical care they will require.
Wallace shows that the dependency ratios (the ratio of non-working "dependents" to working folk) will lead to a point where each worker will need to support not only himself, but a pensioner as well, and his own children, if any (and there will be very few). As the number of young working people, usually the more creative of all age-groups, continue to shrink, innovation will also came to a halt, and ultimately economic growth will vanish and then reverse the secular growing trend. While some environmentalists may feel overjoyed by this implosion of capitalism, most of us who rather liked material comforts and hoped that they would continue to grow endlessly will be less satisfied. The impact of the "agequake" will be felt in every sphere. Corporate hierarchies will make less sense when there are more middle-aged managers than young newcomers. The relationship between youthful and aggressive Third World Countries and rich older OECD countries (where elderly women will be the most influential constituency) will be fraught with dangers. Share prices will tend to collapse as the "Baby Boomers" start to retire and prefer to liquidate some of their assets. The housing market will be altered beyond recognition.
What can be done to avoid this future? Unsurprisingly, not much. Government policies cannot permanently improve fertility in rich countries, immigration in the scale required to make up for the shortfall of young workers will be politically indefensible, and the growing importance of older voters makes it virtually impossible for politicians to effect changes in fields such as retirement ages, pensioners' rights
or public health.
All in all, a sobering read. When these things happen, those of us who read it will have at least a headstart on everyone else. Not bad for a few bucks, eh?