For many of us these trends are not only confusing but profoundly unsettling. Do they spell our downfall? Or might they actually represent more boom than doom? This book provides a guide to help readers grasp the implications of so many moving parts, and it offers a message of optimism about the future while we are managing the anxieties of the present. It presents a tool to help navigate the epochal transformations ahead, suggesting what to do and what not to do under these new and unfamiliar circumstances.
The basic point is this: every finale signifies the dawn of a new reality replete with opportunity—if you dare to dig beneath the surface, anticipate the trends, engage rather than disconnect, and learn how to make effective decisions for yourself, your children, your partner or spouse, your future family, your company, and so forth. Everyone will be impacted.
It's useful to think about epochal transformations as a slow process, with each tiny change bringing us closer to a paradigm shift when, all of a sudden, everything is different. We tend to forget that these small changes are cumulative. Think about it as a slow drip filling up a container, where the drip-drip-drip conveys a sense of time passing. When the water suddenly overflows, we're caught by surprise.
Consider that by 2030, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will be vying for the title of the world's most populous region. That's a far cry from the final years of the twentieth century, when East Asia—comprising China, South Korea, and Japan, among other countries—was the region that could make that claim. It's true that as time goes on, fewer babies are being born in countries like Kenya and Nigeria, but they're still arriving in far greater numbers compared to most of the world. In addition, people in those regions are seeing their life expectancy lengthen significantly.
You might think that sheer population size doesn't matter much. Well, multiply those additional people by how much money they might have in their pockets in the years to come. You'll see that around 2030 Asian markets, even excluding Japan, will be so large that the center of gravity of global consumption will shift eastward. Companies will have no choice but to follow market trends in that part of the world, with most new products and services reflecting the preferences of Asian consumers.
Pause for a moment and think about that.
Then consider what it means as we add a few more intertwined trends. Fewer babies in most parts of the world means that we are steadily marching toward a rapidly aging population. Much of that demographic shift is driven by women, who more and more are remaining in school and pursuing careers (not merely jobs) outside of the home—and bearing fewer children. Before you realize it, there will be more female millionaires than male millionaires. Wealth is also becoming more urban: the population of cities is growing at a rate of 1.5 million per week. While cities occupy just 1 percent of the world's land area, they are home to 55 percent of the population and account for 80 percent of energy consumption (and carbon emissions). That's why cities are on the front lines of efforts to combat climate change.
Meanwhile, different generations of people are displaying divergent longings and aspirations. Millennials are spearheading the sharing economy (while eschewing ownership), but they're getting more attention than they deserve. Within a decade, the largest generation will be the population above age sixty, which today owns 80 percent of the wealth in the United States and is giving rise to the "gray market"—the largest consumer bloc of all. Companies large and small should redirect some of their attention to senior citizens if they wish to remain relevant as time goes on.
Look at Figure 1. It depicts a process of concatenated small changes. In isolation, none of them will result in a shift of truly global proportions. You might be perfectly capable of coping with the changes if you keep each of them separate from the others. Humans are great at mental compartmentalization. It's a subconscious psychological defense mechanism. We use it to avoid cognitive dissonance—the discomfort and anxiety caused by conflicting trends, events, perceptions, or emotions. The whole point of mental compartmentalization is to keep things apart so that we are not overwhelmed by the interactions among them.
Population aging is becoming the norm in America and Western Europe. Meanwhile, the younger generations are driving the ascendancy of the middle class in most emerging markets. They are a very different type of consumer from the one the world has seen so far; more aspirational in their habits, for example. As the middle classes expand, more and more women will accumulate wealth like never before, with both genders adopting urban lifestyles and driving the largest influx of migration we've ever witnessed to cities around the world. And cities create a critical mass of inventors and entrepreneurs intent on disrupting the status quo with innovation and technology. For their part, technologies alter old habits and lifestyles, bringing forth new ways to think about and engage with everything from homes and offices to cars and personal items. This, in turn, will lead to alternative conceptions of money that are more distributed, more decentralized, and easier to use. Some of these trends are already under way, but they will not reach critical mass until around 2030. (All of these trends, however, accelerate and intensify when an epochal event occurs, like the COVID-19 pandemic, which I explore in detail in the Postscript.)