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'Super-Agers' are coming fast

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the terms “old people” and “seniors” are evolving. In the future, we may be called “super-agers.” I like it.

The bad news is the exploding demographic of “super-agers” is going to have a very negative effect on the global economy. At least that’s what some people think.

A recent report from Moody Investor Services was gloomy about the fact that “the world is graying at a breakneck speed.” By the year 2020, in 13 countries, more than 20 percent of their respective populations will be older than 65.

In three counties — Germany, Italy and Japan — that’s already true. By 2030, 34 countries, including the United States, more than 20 percent of people will be “super-agers.” In some instances, that percentage may even push 40 to 50 percent. The fastest growing demographic is people over age 85.

After some careful thought, I do not find this looming reality worrisome. I see all this as an opportunity. The preponderance of super-agers encourages the development of more products and services for older adults. Aging people will be everywhere, and we will come to understand and perhaps more readily embrace the phenomena of aging. We will be seen as “super-ior.” I envision increasing numbers of actively aging people with decades of wisdom and situational savvy — and a willingness to share it. I see them volunteering and mentoring and making important things happen in their communities.

Moody Investor Services sees it differently. They call what’s occurring worldwide “severe aging pressure” and cite the fact there will be “fewer working people to drive economic growth.” Their premise seems flawed — it assumes that people turn 65 and stop “working.”


Think about the people you know who are over retirement age. I suspect they are busier and contributing more than many of the youngish millennials. A lot of these super-agers have a fair amount of disposable income and are spurring economic growth through their monetary actions. Many super-agers may not be retired at all, but still working full-time — and planning to do so indefinitely.

There’s a Northwestern University study of “super-agers” going on currently. In this case, its men and women in their 80s and 90s whose applied intellect and memory function make them appear and act much younger. Perhaps they should be called “really super-agers.” Researchers are seeking to better understand why some 90-year-old people are bursting with energy and a sense of purpose — with a consistently “positive, inquisitive outlook.” I’m tracking this study and will let you know.

One of the participants who is part of the research was asked what she thought defined this business of “super-aging.” Her response — “I am young inside.”

Another comment, “I grasp fast.”

The participant, who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day and drinks a vodka martini every night, had “not a clue” why he “grasped fast," but he wanted to be part of the study so researchers could “get more scientific insights.” And while they’re studying the process of aging, he’s going to work on learning Spanish. I call that super.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.