Silver economy: what is it and which opportunities does it bring?

Image by Paula Santos Jiménez • Text by Belén Zuazo

The elderly, or silver-haired, are now healthier, more educated, more financially stable, available and active than they ever were. As Europe continues to experience demographic ageing, the need to promote active ageing, with projects, activities and services dedicated to this audience becomes clear.

The size of the opportunity

According to the European Commission, Silver Economy includes all those economic activities, products and services designed to meet the needs of people over 50. It's estimated to be worth €3.7 trillion and expected to grow to over €5.7 trillion by 2025.

In 2021, people aged 65 and above represented 20.8% of the EU population. While at first glance this may appear to be a challenge for the social security and health care systems, it is also an opportunity to grow the economy as a key actor. That is: as consumers of new goods and services as well as creators and promoters of projects and structures.

Old-new demands

A recent study on the cultural consumption of seniors in Portugal points out a growing demand for activities that promote both socialization and learning. This is partly thanks to the emergence of a new profile of the older person: they live later and healthier, have higher levels of educational attainment, a desire to continue learning and greater financial and time availability.

These factors mainly benefit three industries, namely: tourism, education and creative industries, which include museums, theatres, galleries, gastronomy, technology, audiovisual and publishing, among others. These sectors can respond to the WHO concept of Healthy Ageing, which calls on government agencies and civil society to create and optimize opportunities to maintain and improve physical and mental health, independence and quality of life of ageing people.

Silver Economy and territories

Demographic shifts tend to hit rural areas harder, leading to population declines caused by both natural factors and migration, particularly among women and young individuals. In this context, the Silver Economy is seen as a chance to breathe new life into rural areas.

Silver Economy has the potential to promote social unity by spanning various sectors like housing, recreation, food, and tourism. Additionally, it could offer qualified employment opportunities in rural regions struggling to retain workers.

An opportunity for entrepreneurial minds

In this sense, initiatives and programmes have emerged that seek to respond to the demands of the ageing population, particularly in low-density areas. One example is the Atención en red programme developed by the Junta de Castilla y León in Spain, which offers individualized care for the elderly with the support of technology.

Another example is the initiative proposed by CIM do Ave in Portugal to integrate the Silver Economy into local tourism offers and the care sector. This contains two main areas of work: developing an awareness-raising campaign on the potential of the Silver Economy for local businesses, and creating a training programme aimed at caregivers to improve capacity building.

In short, the Silver Economy is an opportunity for entrepreneurial minds, be it in the governmental, organizational or private sector. Not only are the elderly a proper target for new and creative enterprises, but they can also add value to society by being actively involved in community projects with potential to revitalize territories.