Globalization, Aging Challenge Growth

Globalization and aging are two sides of the same coin, says a noted author who has written extensively about socioeconomic trends; as we age and chose to have smaller families, we increasingly rely on the affordable labor of foreign workers.

Ted C. Fishman wrote the best-seller China Inc. and more recently Shock of Gray: The Aging of the World's Population and How It Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival, and Nation Against Nation.

He addressed the American Council on International Personnel's annual symposium in Arlington, Va., on Tuesday, sharing insights into aging America and how societies depend on and interact with immigrants, in light of population growth.

Only Israel, among countries in the developed world, has a fertility rate high enough to replace the current population, Fishman says.

That's changing families, the economy and global migration patterns. As we have fewer children, we invest more in the ones we have, he said. As the younger generation becomes more educated, they move to cities for jobs and to use their technical skills. As wages rise, so does the standard of living. They have children, the cycle repeats, and the average age of societies rises.

These patterns are important to companies who want to sell products and business services to the new middle class and to recruit workers, said Lynn Shotwell, executive director of ACIP.

This cycle is not just happening in the United States, where baby boomers have begun to retire amid much hand-wringing over the costs of caring for an aging population. It's happening in across Asia too, Fishman said.

"In 2012, Shanghai will be the oldest city in the world," he said said. "It's will also be one of the best educated."

During the question-and-answer session, an audience member asked whether aging societies expect their economies to stagnate like Japan's has in the past decade. Japan is somewhat unique, Fisman responded, because it doesn't allow immigration. Without the influx of younger immigrants, Japan has focused on automation to increase productivity. Also, older workers are more likely to remain in the workforce; that affects their younger counterparts, who are forced to compete with experienced workers who work for less money.

In China, children have traditionally provided the social safety net for their aging parents. As the young have moved to the cities and families have shrunk, however, there are fewer people to support the elderly.

The older society needs doctors, nurses, caretakers, nurses assistants, Fishman said. Immigrant or migrant labor arrives to fill the demand.

The care gap affects the very young as well. With both parents working, child care becomes important. Enter grandma and grandpa who have benefited from the public health advances and are spry enough to care for their grandchildren. They follow their children - sometimes to the U.S. Among Chinese immigrants coming to the U.S., a large number are older than 60, Fishman said.

Aging societies are not shrinking societies, he said. Although families are smaller, global population will increase.

While caring for the elderly financially and emotionally will pose challenges for societies, Fishman pointed out that it also gives families more time with loved ones.

"Imagine what you'd trade for that," he said.