The Silver Economy: A look at the economic potential of aging in a digital accessible world

For over 20 years, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), as well as global public and private agencies have been highlighting 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/or mobility. As a result, the digital world becomes increasingly inaccessible to certain people. That is if we don’t take action to fix it.

Furthermore, this group of people have new and unique needs that today are not being addressed, and as a result, there is 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, the proposal of this article is 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 digital accessible world.

So, let me introduce you to a term that for some years now has been gaining more and more popularity – “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 that is being 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 this attention on seniors? Well, the answer is as simple as saying that one of the keys to the silver economy is technological innovation, and every day more and more seniors are interested in interacting with technology and the digital universe.

Seniors are interacting more and more with technology
Seniors are interacting more and more with technology

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 in the 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 reported by the World Health Organization, it is expected that 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 under 15.

These projections are motivating many companies and institutions to consider the elderly as an interesting socio-demographic group and a powerful niche market. 

The expected increase of older adults in society. Data - UN Demographics 2019.
The expected increase of older adults in society. Data – UN Demographics 2019.

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, although their is strong evidence that the economy of the future 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 makes us to be absolutely sure that technology was, is and will be one of the fundamental pillars of the growth of the economy.

On the other hand, while the world tends to age, it is we who hold in our hands the power to to 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, and, as software developers, we have great potential literally 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 evidences recommend the generalization of 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, 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 many 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 in a few years’ time 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, but 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 own future while improving the lives of our elders as we speak.

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