Seniors make a significant contribution to society much of which without a financial payment and hence not included in economic measures.

Seniors’ contributions and challenges need to be included in non-market GDP alternative measures.  The exclusion of seniors from these alternative measures is fueling the inter-generational equity debate.  Instead of placing a value on seniors in our society, they are overlooked.  This makes no sense when you consider how many policies are affected by the aging of the population.  Most recently changes such as decreased benefits for early CPP and future age increases for OAS access are two examples of responses to our aging population.

The 2011 report, Beyond GDP-New Measures for a New Economy[1], published by Demos is no exception in this trend to overlook seniors.  The report discusses the relevance of measuring social progress.  The improved health and the depth of engagement of seniors in society would seem to be a clear indicator of social progress and a good fit for their quest to measure areas affecting policy development.

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The need for new accounting to capture undoubtedly very large magnitudes of “non-market value” in our society has long been understood in mainstream economics, giving rise to a substantial technical literature as well as high-level programmatic development in the National Research Council and other leading scientific bodies. At the heart of this effort, economists have been concerned that important sources of economic well-being and rising living standards remain in a “black box”—un-quantified and un-valued, and thereby inaccessible for policy development. This concern is sharpened by the well-grounded view that non-market activities are a major source of human, social, and intellectual capital in our economy—arguably our most important national assets for future productivity, innovation, and sustainable economic growth.

In this light, non-market accounting is increasingly viewed, not just as a technical improvement on conventional GDP measurement, but as a vitally important tool for policymakers focused on promoting broad prosperity in the years ahead.

GDP Alternatives:

The only mentions of a non-monetary indicator that could reflect a contribution by seniors are the three mentions of life expectancy.  There are two positive references about the extension of life expectancy at birth.  There is one negative reference about decreasing life expectancy in Russia.  Here’s some of what I think should have been included:

  1. Disability free life expectancy measures.  Living longer isn’t positive if quality of life is poor.
  2. Seniors’ poverty levels.
  3. Seniors’ caregiving for grandchildren, enabling the middle generation to build careers.
  4. Volunteering by seniors.
  5. Seniors’ intellectual capital.
  6. Legacy building by seniors such as wisdom shared with younger generations.
  7. Seniors caring for seniors (peer caregiving).
  8. Seniors leading social causes.

As has been said many times, our society is aging.  Seniors will have a significant role in the new demographic balance.  By measuring the value of seniors in our society there will be an acknowledgement of their value and importance.  This will reduce dramatizations of a grey tsunami and fears about how much seniors will cost the next generation.  Instead, seniors will be seen as part of the solution to our future prosperity.