Five Big Demographic Shifts and What They Mean for PR


Much has been made of how demographic changes – primarily generational – are affecting media consumption. The focus continues to be primarily on Millennials across the world and their propensity to consume media on multiple screens while constantly being on the move.

What’s been missing, however, is a look at even deeper changes that are profoundly altering the demographics of entire countries and regions of the world, and what those changes could mean to the future of PR.
While there are a multitude of demographic changes to consider – such as shifts in wealth distribution, other age related issues, and immigration – the changes associated with age cut across multiple topics. George Magnus, famous economist and author, made some predictions related to age during a presentation he gave to the Conference Board in 2013. Let’s look at the five massive ones and how they impact PR.

1. Older not younger.
Over the next 35 years, there are expected to be more older citizens than children. That means about 418 million people in the world over the age of 60 by 2050. While most Baby Boomers will have since passed by then, that means a lot of older Millennials and Generation Z-ers inhabiting the earth. While their affinity to devices may vary by global region, they will bring their digital expectations with them, providing both opportunities and challenges. Public relations professionals will be tasked with staying current on information that will shift with the needs that come with growing older. That includes healthcare, shopping and travel options. Combine this with a generational expectation of transparency and the role of public relations in both ensuring transparency and combating charges of non-transparency will become even more prevalent.

2. Non-communicable diseases – new epidemics.
According to the Business Insider article, the World Health Organization has called the invisible epidemic of non-communicable diseases responsible for about 60% of deaths globally. The leading culprit is depression, which is expected to become the biggest single cause of disability by 2030. That will likely mean more pharmaceutical solutions entering the market across the world, but also more holistic options with populations in various global regions being more open to them than others. This may also force a more candid and open discussion of the issue and remove some of the stigma related to discussing it. Public relations has an opportunity to help drive this shift while also playing a part in the way different medications will be introduced into the market. The challenge will be to keep the fight against communicable diseases from taking a back seat in terms of awareness.

3. Faster to 60.
More people are reaching 60 than ever before. In most developed countries, it took about 40 – 80 years for those over 60 to double in size of population. In emerging markets, however, the process is playing out in about 20 years with China being the fastest to hit this mark. The result is that many people are growing old before they or the countries where they live can afford it. For PR professionals, this will mean the need for communication strategies tied to what will inevitably be strained resources, new government initiatives related to both financial and physical well-being, and new products touting the ability to help the aging population cope.

4. Who’s going to pay for it?
The issue here is around what is referred to as the old age dependency ratio — the number of workers available to support a single retired citizen. A low dependency ratio is where there are fewer workers available per older citizen. For instance, the 1.5 workers per retiree expected by 2050 in countries like Germany, Japan, Italy, and Spain where weak fertility, rising longevity and more stringent immigration policies are the cause. Meanwhile, economies like Sweden and France are predicted to have higher ratios that will fall from 4-5 workers today to about 2-2.5 by the mid-century. This is mostly due to higher fertility rates and a more open immigration policy. PR may be asked to create campaigns that will 1) keep workers working longer, 2) extol the virtues of helping support the elderly, and 3) loosen immigration policies to ensure a more manageable dependency ratio that isn’t available without it.

5. Exploiting the economic dividend.
There is an ideal economic phase where child dependency is falling and the working age population is expanding, and old age dependency is just on the brink of rising. Growth in income, savings, investment, and technical progress highlight this phase. Once the old age dependency ratio starts to rise, however, then all bets are off as it tends to drag down growth. Strong financial institutions, positive investment climate, stable infrastructure, and ongoing innovation allow countries to exploit this demographic dividend to their benefit. While PR can’t directly affect any of these elements, it can communicate what companies and government institutions are doing to improve and protect them. Consequently, PR will be called on in the future to effectively communicate the economic dividend to help ensure its longevity and benefits.