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

Front Cover
Simon and Schuster, Oct 19, 2010 - Social Science - 416 pages
3 Reviews
The New York Times bestselling author of China, Inc. reports on the astounding economic and political ramifications of an aging world.

The world’s population is rapidly aging—by the year 2030, one billion people will be sixty-five or older. As the ratio of the old to the young grows ever larger, global aging has gone critical: For the first time in history, the number of people over age fifty will be greater than those under age seventeen. Few of us under≠stand the resulting massive effects on economies, jobs, and families. Everyone is touched by this issue—parents and children, rich and poor, retirees and workers—and now veteran jour≠nalist Ted C. Fishman masterfully and movingly explains how our world is being altered in ways no one ever expected.

What happens when too few young people must support older people? How do shrinking families cope with aging loved ones?

What happens when countries need millions of young workers but lack them? How do compa≠nies compete for young workers? Why, exactly, do they shed old workers?

How are entire industries being both created and destroyed by demographic change? How do communities and countries remake themselves for ever-growing populations of older citizens? Who will suffer? Who will benefit?

With vivid and witty reporting from American cities and around the world, and through compelling interviews with families, employers, workers, economists, gerontologists, government officials, health-care professionals, corporate executives, and small business owners, Fishman reveals the astonishing and interconnected effects of global aging, and why nations, cultures, and crucial human relationships are changing in this timely, brilliant, and important read.

What people are saying - Write a review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

If age is just a number, then that number is about to present enormous global consequences in the next few decades. So says veteran journalist Ted C. Fishman in his around-the-world study of how an aging planetary population will affect all aspects of society, including business, government and family life. Fishman’s in-depth study leans heavily on stories, anecdotes and conversations, backed by extensive statistics and impressive academic research. His tales are as entertaining as they are illuminating, pointing out the contradictions, foibles and hard realities of life lived on a graying globe. getAbstract highly recommends Fishman’s all-encompassing look at old age – not just to older people or the middle-aged, but also to members of younger demographics, who are about to embark on an unprecedented journey with their elders into the future.
More about this book:

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Fishman takes a confrontational approach to the subject of agin, as the title tells.
But readers may want to consider his stories with a "grain of salt," realizing that the author has pieced
together several episodes from his journalistic career to weave it into a book. Then, to help it sell, he plays on people's fears.
Keeping that in mind, readers may find some interesting observations.
Here is an example of how Fishman's particular studies have led him to make general conclusions. The first section of the book covers life in Sarasota, Florida, a place where many people go to retire. Fishman is proposing that Sarasota today is how many American communities will look in the future, because of changing demographics. But this is only his hypothesis. He does not make clear that Sarasota may not be indicative of other cities, in fact, may be an "outlier" on a distribution of such cities. That is, it lies at the far end of the distribution, but all measures, or by most measures. This is stuff you learn in basic statistics courses.
My reading of his material on Sarasota would lead me to propose an alternative hypothesis: Sarasota is now, and will be in the future, far from the mean with respect to seniors living in a community; in fact, if we think of a normal distribution (another hypothesis), Sarasota would be far out on the tail, with respect to other American communities, both now and in the future.
One reason Sarasota is different is that people go there specifically to retire, thus, in general, have the money to relocate and retire to a sunny climate, where they want to retire. Not all seniors can do that. Of course, it is desirable to retire to a locale that has moderate climate, not too hot, not too cold, but many seniors do not have the option to pick their place of retirement.
Thus, Fishman is talking about the well-to-do. Yes, he does note that many of Sarasota's seniors end up living hand-to-mouth, after having spent down their wealth on dying spouses, for example. But again, these poor Sarasota seniors seem to be the exceptions to the rule, the outliers.
One point is that, as journalists must do, Fishman bases his conclusions on his own particular episodes with seniors. As a specialist, he surely knows more than most of us do about seniors. Some of his points are supported by other data, besides his own interviews and observations, which he duly notes. Nonetheless, the reader must bear in mind that, like most journalists, his viewpoint is slanted, if only because he can only interview, and write stories, about a small number of people, when you consider the whole population from which he is drawing, the population of seniors or whatever it is. He can only attempt to incorporate so many viewpoints into his writing, and then he necessarily misses many other viewpoints.
In his second section, Fishman discusses Spain, where he also did many interviews. Again, the problem of generalization looms. Spain has its own peculiar demography, which, while similar to the demographics of other countries, still may not tell the story of these other countries.
In discussing Spain, Fishman notes that older people, even beginning at 55, are both pushed and pulled out of the workforce; thus, they no longer contribute to the national product, but instead become full-time consumers. But if the country is importing workers, younger workers generally, from poorer nations, what can the senior citizens do? They are not needed in the workforce; maybe they ask too much in pay and fringe benefits.
This is what I asked myself. I am three years out of the workforce, living well enough without a job. I don't want to go back to work, but even if I did, my chances of getting hired in a field related to my experience would be small, especially where I live now. There are not many jobs here (an ocean-side county in California).
Thus, seniors in the U.S. (and this is where a generalization to Spain may be actually appropriate) are between a rock and a hard spot. They have no


Gray New World
Rockford Illinois
Vulnerable Cherished Frail Kind Bothersome Sweet
Will It Grow Old Before It Grows Rich?
Generations at the Table

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2010)

Ted Fishman is a seasoned financial and economic journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Money, Harper’s, Esquire, USA TODAY, and GQ. He is featured frequently on many of the world’s premiere broadcast news outlets. A Princeton graduate, Fishman is also a former floor trader and member of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where he ran his own derivatives arbitrage firm. He lives in Chicago.

Bibliographic information