Betty White attracted 12 million viewers to Saturday Night Live two weeks ago. According to critics, this was “a staggering number on a Saturday night when prime-time network shows have trouble reaching a third as many people — and this number came during hours when television usage is a fraction of what it is in prime time.”

What has White got that the usual SNL host doesn’t? 88 years.

“If current demographic trends hold,” writes columnist Mary Sanchez, “it won’t be long before older Americans outnumber youngsters. From that perspective, the fascination with White isn’t as puzzling as it is telling.”

Some people offer other explanations for her popularity. “Advertising honchos ascribed White’s popularity to her retro feel, her ability to be a bankable soother in times of economic uncertainty. Meanwhile, another reviewer detected an ‘archtypal example of old/new new media partnership.’ ”

But Sanchez argues that we shouldn’t so much try to figure out Ms. White as encouraging others to be more like her. Because there’s going to be a lot more Betty Whites.

In seven years, the number of people in the world under the age of 5 years old and those above the age of 65 will criss-cross – meaning, there will be more elderly people around than the toddlers. Extrapolate 30 years forward and the number of elderly may be double that of the very young.

The global ramifications can’t be understated. This will be a first. Throughout history, the number of people under the age of 5 has always been higher than those at the other end of life. Not so in the future. Europe, with its declining birthrates, will get there first. But the U.S. is quickly following as the baby boomers age. …

White’s age cohort, people over 85, wasn’t much studied as a demographic in prior generations. Soon they will increasingly be seen as a force to be reckoned with. Virtually every aspect of life will be affected by seniors – transportation, housing, labor markets, healthcare, to name an obvious few. And more families will find themselves comprised of four living generations – think of how that could change family dynamics.

So Betty White is the future.


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