The world is aging. Not just because Earth continues to orbit the sun, but also because many countries are facing a changing demographic in which older generations make up a larger percentage of the population. In countries like the United States, age pyramids have become stationary, while in some European nations the age pyramids are beginning to invert. This phenomenon allows older generations to continue to hold positions of authority and have a strong impact on the election process.
A recent Wall Street Journal article exemplified the aging trend of the U.S. through two-states—Maine and Florida—which will likely end the year with more elderly residents than children. This is an unprecedented shift in the country’s history, which in the past 50 years saw a growth in younger generations.
The WSJ also highlights how this trend will continue in the next 30 years, estimating that the older population will almost double their numbers, but the total population will grow by just 34% over the same period. This has and will continue to take a toll on globalization and political trends worldwide.
The millennial generation is the most culturally accepting generation in the history of the world—young people dream of tearing down walls, removing obstacles, and eliminating borders that separate cultures, religions and ethnicities. With more political power, millennials are likely to advance calls for a more integrated and borderless world. But, while millennials are trying to bring the world together, the older generations are reflecting on the unintended consequences of rapid integration.
History appears to be repeating itself. The first half of the 20th century saw a generation fight against empires and nationalistic movements. Later on, Baby Boomers and Generation X fought communism, tore down walls, and built free-trade agreements that eventually pushed some countries to unify, removing not only economic barriers, but also allowing the free movement of people.
While this movement vowed to be the promising start of a more globalized planet, it brought a wave of immigration from underdeveloped countries to developed countries, leaving a large number of middle-class families without jobs when big companies began outsourcing. A process that once claimed to deliver universal benefits is now facing a political backlash.
The last decade exposed many flaws in globalization and free markets, particularly, not being able to meet the economic reforms that would have given promised benefits to all nations, as well as a financial crisis that crushed many dreams. This paved the way to a growing populist movement that reached its peak this year, with two political shockers –"Brexit" and President Elect Donald Trump - that may not be the last of their kind.
The Council on Foreign Relations, an independent, nonpartisan membership organization focused on helping people better understand the world and the foreign policy choices made by some countries, explains Brexit as: “a desire to regain control of immigration and reclaim national sovereignty from international institutions.”
Furthermore, the organization explains how this feeling is parallel to the anti-immigration and anti-trade sentiment surging in the United States, which the authors say is driven by "individuals who feel like they have been on the losing end of globalization."
In Great Britain’s case, Brexit was championed by age groups of 50+, while three quarters of British voters aged 24 and under voted against it. In the U.S. elections, exit polls published by CNN showed that people of 45 years and older favored Donald Trump, as opposed to most younger voters. Bloomberg News goes as far as to say that: “Had only millennials voted, Clinton would've won in a landslide.”
Millennials want change, but their elder generations are making strong arguments on why, rather than moving forward, citizens should stop and step back to keep their nations safe. As more countries continue to flirt with populist leaders and regional integration appears to be a less viable option for growth, younger generations will have to fight their own battle to prove integration and cultural pluralism are the right tools to build our future.