The above image courtesy of Aldebaran. Photo by Jake Curtis.
What to do when 25 percent of your population is older than 65?
Slow down the escalators.
The world’s oldest country, Japan has a senior citizen population that controls 60 percent of their household assets and does one-half of all consumer spending. In Japan, a typical woman’s life expectancy is 87 years (U.S. 82) and a man’s, 81 (U.S. 77).
Where are we going? To how businesses respond to aging populations.
Pepper (the robot)
With elder care a problem in nations that have a shortage of caregivers, robots are one solution. Below you can meet Pepper, a robot that is almost four feet tall, weighs 61 pounds, and is appealingly human. Priced at only $1600, Pepper has led classes of senior citizens through exercise sequences, given color and letter recognition tests, and received loving head pats afterwards.
Pepper really does have a personality. By analyzing your facial expressions, It (she? he?) responds to your emotions and decides if you are happy, sad, angry, surprised or … whatever. Seeing you are sad, Pepper will try to cheer you up. If you laugh, Pepper knows to react happily. As Pepper gets to know you better, she becomes more understanding.
Pepper’s makers say at their website that the goal is to make “kind robots” who become an “artificial species.” Do look at this video and others at YouTube, Pepper is charming.
From diapers to cremation services, retail is shifting to the elders who have the money. In Japan, adult diapers outsell what parents purchase for their babies. One major Tokyo-based supermarket has slowed its escalators to two-thirds their normal speed and made their shopping carts lighter. Catering to senior households, stores are packaging smaller portions and adding delivery trucks. Japan’s 7-Eleven reports that home deliveries are doubling annually. And I guess we could have predicted that firms are pre-selling cremation services through funeral planning cruises so seniors can see how their ashes might scatter across Tokyo Bay.
In the U.S. the housing market has already begun to respond to the baby boomers. Whereas single and multifamily home construction plunged in 2006, it has been the multifamily units that made the comeback to pre-crisis levels. Initially, the millennials (born from 1980 to early 2000s) had fueled demand for rental units but now baby boomers and 70-year olds are downsizing. According to the Kansas City Fed, people above 75 are currently driving new multifamily unit construction and then the baby boomers will propel the market.
Our Bottom Line: Aging Populations
Robots, retail and housing only begin to tell the story of a massive demographic shift in nations (below) that have the darkest brown shading. Even including slower escalators, the impact of aging populations will be considerable.