Aging Assumptions

Report From the Futurist

Futurist

Gary Wright, 47, corporate demographer for consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1999, P&G's sales reached close to $40 billion, more than half of which came from outside the United States.

Scenario

"World-population growth is slowing down. At the same time, life spans are increasing, particularly in developed countries. In 2010, 97 million Americans -- 43% of U.S. adults -- will be over 50. And we're retiring earlier, which leaves fewer working people to support a growing nonworking population. We may have to reconsider when people should stop working, or adjust what it means to work so that it is consistent with the needs of an older population. To an extent, immigration will offset population declines. But I think it is wrong to view slow growth and an aging population as things that necessarily need to be 'cured.' And the alternative is clearly worse."

So What?

"In the very long term, no one really knows how to conduct business in a no-growth or low-growth environment. Companies like P&G grew up during a period when economic progress reflected huge surges in the population and an incredible expansion of markets. The real challenge for the future will be to figure out how to find business opportunities in a world with a stable population -- even if that world is still a long way off."

Futurology Decoder Key

"At P&G, we talk about 'white spaces' -- places in the world that are unexplored or untapped opportunities for a particular line or a new product that we can create, whether it is cosmetics or detergent or diapers. It'll be some time before we start to face the disappearance of white spaces altogether. Even so, businesses need to keep such a future possibility in mind -- even if many of us are operating in the here and now of Internet time."

Contact Gary Wright by email (wright.gw@pg.com).

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