For over 20 years, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and global public and private agencies have highlighted the importance of population aging and its economic impact.
As people age, we tend to lose certain capacities over time, such as partial loss of sight, hearing, and mobility. As a result, the digital world has become increasingly inaccessible to certain people. That is, if we don't take action to fix it.
Furthermore, this group of people has new and unique needs that today still need to be addressed, and as a result, there is a big potential for development companies that want to invest in filling these gaps.
Empirical data shows the loss of capacity generally associated with aging is only loosely related to a person's chronological age. The resulting diversity in the capabilities and needs of older people is not random but is based on events occurring throughout their life and can often be modified.
Guided by this data, this article aims to shift the focus to a more optimistic view of old age and digital accessibility. The aging of the population can be seen as an opportunity for great economic potential in a digitally accessible world.
So, let me introduce you to a term that has been gaining more and more popularity for some years - "The Silver Economy. In this article, we will explore the following:
- What is the silver economy?
- Why is the silver economy relevant?
- How big is the silver economy?
- How software development can help with digital accessibility
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What is the Silver Economy?
The silver economy is defined as the market developed around the needs of an aging population. That includes all those economic activities, products, and services designed to meet the needs of people over 50.
Why are we focusing attention on seniors? Well, the answer is as simple as saying that technological innovation is one of the keys to the silver economy. Every day, more and more seniors are interested in interacting with technology and the digital universe.
But, given that we are talking about a specific demographic, it is also important to define the characteristics of this population, so let's see how it has been defined:
- The population that makes up this group is highly affluent.
- They spend time doing things they have been putting off in life, such as traveling, enjoying new experiences, participating in cultural and leisure activities, being fashionable, etc.
- This population tends to have healthy habits. They exercise and eat a balanced diet.
- They are loyal to brands, tend to be more consumerist than young people, and require more specific and personalized products and services.
How big is the Silver Economy?
According to a study Published in Georgetown Business Magazine in 2018, “there are about 962 million people over the age of 60 I expected to world today, more than twice as many as there were in 1980”. These numbers already have a lot of impact on their own. But, now, if we continue looking at this trend into the future, the statistics are still surprising.
By 2050, as the World Health Organization reported, this number will more than double again to nearly 2.1 billion. So in other words, this means that the increase in older adults coupled with declining birth rates means that, by the middle of this century, there will be more people over 60 than those under 15.
These projections are motivating many companies and institutions to consider the elderly as an interesting socio-demographic group and a strong niche market.
Beyond this data and knowing that population aging is an important topic on the global agenda, thinking about the silver economy still presents some challenges. However, there is strong evidence that the future economy will be led by the elderly.
Therefore, although this scenario may still generate some uncertainty, we have all the cards in our favor. On the one hand, the course of history ensures that technology was, is, and will be one of the fundamental pillars of the economy's growth.
On the other hand, while the world tends to age, we can create this bridge of connection by building a universe of inclusive, accessible, and digital opportunities.
Innovation, inclusion, and digitalization
These three concepts go hand in hand when it comes to bringing about positive change in the quality of life for seniors. As software developers, we have great potential at our fingertips to make this happen.
The Silver Economy represents an incredible market opportunity for software developers by meeting a myriad of services and needs and providing technology that is relevant, accessible, and specifically designed for seniors.
As developers, this is our opportunity to foster innovation, promote inclusion and contribute to the digitization of seniors. Numerous scientific pieces of evidence recommend generalizing digital accessibility as a universal right for older people.
Innovative solutions, assistive technologies, and digital services tailored to the needs and preferences of older people have massive potential to improve their quality of life.
They can help support independent living, facilitating opportunities for people to connect with their families, their community, the healthcare system, and community resources, and manage medication.
Where are we now?
In many cases, the early stages of the pandemic have served as a bridge to digitization for seniors. For many seniors, the main barrier to connecting with digital products or services may be fear or difficulty in understanding their usability; more and more are taking their first steps into the digital world.
According to a survey by the Pew Research Center among U.S. adults, 68% of Baby Boomers (aged 55-73) and 40% of those belonging to the Silent Generation (aged 74-91) own smartphones, a significant increase over the last decade. This figure is 90% for Generation X, which will be part of the silver economy.
Are you wondering about millennials, Generation Z, and Generation Alpha? Don't panic! We have at least the next 30 years to think of proposals based on the needs of our contemporary digital natives. Still, digital accessibility will certainly be just as important then as it is today.
Time flies and the call to facilitate an accessible digital environment for the Silver Economy challenges and motivates us to get to work immediately; after all... aging is inevitable, so we must shape our future while improving our elders' lives as we speak.
Interested in learning more about digital accessibility? Read up on the new guidelines that are soon to be put in place, aka WCAG 2.2.