Three Megatrends for the Next Year and Century
Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 15:01
Every year psychics, stockbrokers and politicians make predictions about the coming months, years and decades. They normally predict a return of some odd assortment of ideas, fashions and technologies that have been recycled or reinvented. And it’s hard not to use the beginning of a new year to reassess how we should personally, financially and socially invest our resources.
This year, I implore everyone to resist the temptation of the short-term outlook that has gripped our politicians and financial markets and instead try to focus on the future in a more justifiable manner. The most successful people are those who are able to sense shifts in the larger humanistic trends and make prudent investments to capitalize on those changes. While Amazon’s small delivery drones may yet transport next year’s Christmas gifts and Bitcoin may replace the dollar, it is more likely that non-technological trends will appear over the next year and shape the next decade.
You don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict that women’s status in the workplace, government and every other part of society will continue to grow. Millennial women are now better educated than their male counterparts and, according to a new Pew Research report, are the first cohort of women in modern history to start their work lives at a near wage equivalence with men. This doesn’t mean women earn their fair share yet. But this, combined with countless other complementary indicators, suggests that women are gaining traction toward full equality. The recent election of a record 20 women to the United States Senate and rising expectations for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign suggest that even bigger things are to come for women. Their changing role in society will be a driving force in every industry, sector and issue.
Brands, groups and laws perceived to be unfriendly to women must adapt or risk irrelevance. Women will increasingly control more of the world’s disposable income, represent more of the world’s voting population and have a larger, and likely positive, impact on our world. The result of this megatrend is limitless and unpredictable.
As agriculture becomes more efficient and employment remains concentrated in cities, life on earth will become increasingly more metropolitan. Just 16 years from now, demographers expect the urban population to exceed five billion worldwide — the population of the entire planet in 1987.
Urbanization provides the potential to improve living conditions and increase access to healthcare, education and other services. But, as cities grow, the costs to meet basic needs will skyrocket and intensify the strain on public resources, including the environment. Some nations and regions can expect major cultural and livelihood transformations as conservative, rural countries become increasingly urban.
These changes will remake some parts of the world with unforeseen consequences. In the coming decades, struggles for basic resources and services and changes in the skills employees need will likely change the economic, political and social landscape across the globe.
National governments’ inability to address their citizens’ demands will invigorate local businesses, social groups and governments. Community leaders will look to tackle problems left unaddressed by paralyzed, ideologically partisan national governments. State authorities may even accelerate this trend and decentralize power in an effort to maintain stability.
At best, the rise of localism will strengthen small communities’ social capital, reinvigorate cooperation and even help spur innovation among competing mini city-states or microstates. But localization could also descend into tribalism, authoritarianism and inequality across the various localities.
Localization, like the continued rise of women and urbanization, is not necessarily good or bad — although leaders would be wise to prepare accordingly. Rather, these megatrends are opportunities for the savvy among us to build products, skills and ideas with these potential changes in mind.
Michael B. Schoengold is a dual degree candidate at the School of Foreign Service and McDonough School of Business.