Crisis: In 2001 the average age of retirement hit a minimum of 63, and the bottom of a fifty year decline. Since Reagan's social security forms have taken effect, it has risen and is scheduled to continue to rise. Within the next fifty years, experts predict that a significant number of people will never retire, but will remain productive and active workers until their deaths. The number of elderly in the developed world will continue to increase both absolutely and proportionately for the foreseeable future. Despite these trends, and despite their considerable political power, elderly people remain on the fringes of mainstream society.
This is going to change. Not only is the average human life span continuing to increase, medical advances can and will allow elderly people to remain active and successful far longer than at any time in history. The current generation will live 5-10 percent longer than their parents. Even if 120 years represent a firm ceiling to human lifespan, and even if no medical breakthroughs contain or eliminate serious diseases, these trends will occur simply as existing sanitation, nutrition, and health education and genetic knowledge spread around the world. The generation of baby-boomers will be the most active and youthful-appearing elders the human race has ever seen.
Their retirement and that of following generations will take place later in life, with less of a break in relationship to ordinary work, and with the assumption that people will continue work in some form. Retirement will put few people out to pasture, but will be a time for people to use their experience, intelligence, and success to create new lives for themselves. (Thirty years of doing the crossword is going to seem a bit much for anyone.)
This cannot happen without broader effects on society. People who expect to live longer have babies later. The birthrate will hold, but the next population explosion will be of old people. Organizations, the competitive ones, at least, will embrace the wealth of experience, adaptability, and world-wisdom that only older people can accumulate. (22 percent of job growth since 1995 has been people over 55, already). Older workers who aren't about to retire represent less of a risk (and, statistically, less of an average health-care cost than young families) in any marketplace, and they will integrate into the mainstream - just as information economies start requiring less physical stamina anyway.
Knowledge workers today will be hired for up to six different careers throughout their lives, and two or more of them will come after age 55. (The fastest growing population of Internet users? the over 50 crowd). Social security will not be a pension, but a stipend. This will of course loom large in a world of increasing health-care costs and mounting differences between rich and poor. Yet, everyone's health will be better, because health technologies decline in price the same way technologies do - think of laser eye surgery. It's not that poor people's medical care will get worse, it's that expensive medical care will get so much better so quickly.
*bonus crisis: 6.5 million American people, mostly older black men, are about to be released from long-term prison sentences begun in the mid-1980's, having been arrested almost entirely for drug activity. They are poorly educated, tied to impoverished communities if any, have poor work histories, will be too old to return to crime, are for the most part ineligible for social security, and are unprepared and untrained for life outside of prison. Their releases will start in a wave in 2010. Some American cities are about to be inundated by aging former felons. They will have few if any prospects. What on Earth are these people going to do?