Andres Oppenheimer

Andres Oppenheimer: The demographic revolution

When young people ask me what will be the jobs of the future, my answer — contrary to the prevailing view in marketing circles — is simple: anything related to older people.

Indeed, a new report released Thursday by the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms that the world’s population is getting older, and will get much older over the next few decades. People are having fewer children, infant mortality has dropped dramatically and people across the world are living longer.

Worldwide, the number of people aged 60 and over will double by 2050. In Latin America, the population aged 60 and over will grow at an even faster pace: It will double by 2025, the report says.

The WHO study, titled “World Report on Ageing and Health,” says that while there were 50 million people aged over 60 in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2006, the figure is expected to reach 100 million by 2025.

“Latin America is one of the world’s regions that is aging most rapidly,” says Enrique Vega, an expert with the Pan American Health Organization, the WHO’s regional branch.

Cuba, where there are more deaths than births, will be among the world’s 10 countries with the oldest populations by 2050, according to United Nations figures. Cuba’s population aged 60 and over will grow from 7 percent in 1950 to 34 percent by 2050.

In Brazil, the population aged 60 and over will increase from 5 percent in 1950 to 27 percent by 2050. In Mexico, it will grow from 7 percent to 24 percent over the same period.

Because of this demographic revolution, Latin America will soon have the same problem that European countries are having now: too few young people having to support too many older people. And, like in Europe, with older people working longer in life and a growing number of jobs taken over by robots and automation, Latin America’s youth unemployment problems might not go away.

It’s no coincidence that a Forbes magazine article about the jobs of the future listed registered nurses as the most-wanted workers in the United States by 2020, followed not too far behind by “home health aides,” or personal living assistants.

While robots and automation will kill many existing jobs like travel agents — an Oxford University study says up to 47 percent of current jobs will not exist in two decades — health-related jobs that require a personal touch will be very much needed. Occupations like social workers, occupational therapists, audiologists or mental health therapists are likely to thrive.

Polls show that older people increasingly want to stay in their homes as long as possible, which will require a legion of personal assistants, from fitness trainers, massage specialists and mental counselors to financial aides to help people pay their bills and manage their money. Entire new industries will flourish, from medical tourism to elderly-targeted architecture and home designs with electric escalators and non-slippery floors.

The current corporate world’s culture based on marketing goods to younger people may soon change, at least partly. More companies are going to produce goods aimed at the not-so-young, such as computer keyboards with bigger letters, or TV remote controls with four buttons, instead of dozens.

“In the United States, those who are older than 55 will control 70 percent of all disposable income by 2017,” the WHO report says. “In France, those older than 55 will be responsible for two thirds of all increased consumption between 2015 and 2030.”

My opinion: It’s time for countries to focus on how they will cope with — and take advantage of — the coming demographic revolution. And people choosing a career or starting a business should think twice about jumping into the current marketing culture focused on 20-somethings. As the latest WHO figures show, the world will get much older.