One of the most tiresome ag media fixations is the obsession with average farmer age. I have tried to counter such predictable laments, most recently in the February 2011 issue of Top Producer.
Short version: Increasing average age is a feature, not a bug.
Illuminating this issue brings to light other unappreciated impacts of demographic trends on agriculture: the advancing age of not just operators but also owners; the effects of smaller, and especially later, families; and the changes in likely causes of death.
Longer Lives. First, career planning for many Baby Boomers did not take into account how long it would take for farm assets to fund their retirement. Healthy octogenarians, especially women, are more likely than not to reach their 90s.
Medical technology continues to add years to the end of lives faster than we imagined. Rather than being disbursed to coincide with retirement, inheritances in many cases aren’t even available for long-term care of the younger generation. Although a longer delay before having children can offset this extension, that trend will likely arrive too late for Generation X, born from 1961-81, and their Boomer parents.
The average age of U.S. women when they have their first child has risen from just under 23 in 1980 to over 26. This shift frustrates wannabe grandparents and makes physicians nervous because later childbirth increases the risk of some birth defects.