Those that thinks that our society will continue along the same path forget that the Western European countries just have undergone a “once-in-the-millennium” demographic transition, which will never happen again, and that the USA are still in this transition and China has reached there as well. Throughout history of mankind, a relatively stable population has been normal and the rapid population growth of the last 200 years is the abnormal. The end to population growth is perhaps a bigger challenge for the capitalist project than the population explosion; after all, the population explosion had gone hand in hand with the capitalist expansion. A country like Japan has completed its transition and there has been virtually no growth for twenty ears and a constant "crisis".
The changing population pyramid will change society. Many manufacturers, service providers and retailers are adapting their offers to be more appealing to rapidly growing groups of elderly, who are also used to be active consumers (earlier generations of old people were still not raised as “consumers”). Politically, the care for the elderly was earlier mainly a question of relief for the working generation, and it was their perspective that dominated; the elderly were “objects” rather than subjects. Today it is the old people themselves that shape how care of them is developed with a combination of political action and letting their considerable wealth speak. Less observed, but equally important, is the shift in values that will come.
The demographic transition shape societies. The big cohorts of young people that characterized the youth of capitalism and industrialism is the demographic reflection of the expansion and pioneership. Like with so many other things one can also turn this on the head and say that it was this demographic structure that drove capitalism in its early stages. It is not only economic growth that is propelled by a big share of young people; it is also the values typical for the young such as rejection of traditions, rebellion, glorification of strength, risk taking and body culture. Our current society's glorification of youth stands in stark contrast to the attitudes of earlier cultures.
Society, but also many old themselves has a kind of youth obsession. Old people are expected to behave as “old youth” in a similar way as children were treated as “small adults” some hundred years ago. Eighty year olds engage in mountaineering, speed dating, wind surfing or parachuting:
Former President George H.W. Bush marked his 85th birthday on Friday the same way he did his 75th and 80th birthdays: He leaped from a plane and zoomed downward at more than 100 mph in free fall before parachuting safely to a spot near his ocean front home.[...] He told reporters that he jumped Friday for two reasons: to experience the exhilaration of free-falling and to show that seniors can remain active and do fun things." Just because you're an old guy, you don't have to sit around drooling in the corner," Bush said (AP 2009).
This is about to change. Other properties, other characteristics of being human, will be in higher esteem for elderly people. Properties like maturity and reflection and even slowness (e.g. Slow Food) itself. Add to that, values such as care, spirituality and safety, opposition to risk-taking. Care for things close and interest in the beauty of and satisfaction by the small things in life are also typical for age, in contrast to youth's taste of exploration, expansion and novelties. The values of the old are better adapted to the values needed in a sustainable society. The combined effect of the shift in values and the effect on growth, caused by an aging population will be a strong determining factor the coming century.