Aging is a fact of life. Barring an untimely death, we all grow old physically and mentally; our bodies mature, our relationships evolve, our points of view morph, and all of these changes are perfectly normal. It’s part of what I think makes humanity beautiful: the way we take the changes that come with age in stride. Even old age is not as much a decline as it is a sunset, which as often as they occur, never fail to be exquisite.
Why, then, is youth so fetishized in today’s world? If businesses aren’t selling the false promise of it, they are catering to it or recruiting it. The opinion conveyed by these decisions is that aging is wrong and should be stopped at all costs. Worse, it sets precedent for agism in the workplace and excludes a growing demographic of seniors from marketing decisions in favor of “trend-setting” teens.
I think that society (and businesses by proxy) have it all wrong. There should be nothing taboo about aging, as older people are some of the wisest, most capable, and increasingly numerous among us. They also have more spending power than younger generations — a good enough reason in and of itself not to be discounted or ignored.
As an entrepreneur in the field of eldercare, the dignity inherent to old age is ingrained into the very fiber of my company, The Allure Group. But one need not be in eldercare to embrace our aging populace.
A Growing Market
According to the US Census, about 18% of the American population will be above 65 years old in 2030. Jonathan Vespa, a demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau, says “By 2035, there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.4 million under the age of 18.” This means that older people will outnumber children for the first time in American history.
As I’ve written before, 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every year, and few industries seem prepared for this influx — even healthcare. And many other boomers are reaching retirement age without plans or even the ability to retire. They play an enormous role in our society, but society still tells them they are unfit for certain jobs and products. It seems foolish to send the message to this growing demographic that they have “aged out” of anything, but then again, making people feel bad has been a motivator for businesses for some time.
Baby boomers (and older people more generally) wield an extraordinary amount of financial power. According to the Huffington Post, “Boomers and older Americans own 63 percent of all American financial assets, making them a serious economic force to be reckoned with and a highly coveted group for marketers looking to have a serious impact.”
The 50-plus age group spends more than any other; at about $3.2 trillion annually, its GDP is larger than that of several major nations combined. Yet “a shockingly small 10 percent of marketing dollars are targeted toward 50-plus.”
Baby boomers and older Americans are living longer and also working longer. Their value in the workforce should go without saying, yet age discrimination is a common issue in workplaces across the country.
The share of older people in the workforce is, in fact, growing — a trend very much set to continue. According to Deloitte, “The only age group projected to gain share between 2014 and 2024 is the 55-and-over age group.” As their populations increase, so will their workforce participation, with “a 55.4 percent increase in the 65–74-year-old contingent, and an 85.5 percent increase among those 75 and older” between 2014 and 2024.
Despite a stigma against older workers in increasingly agile, tech-fueled environments, multi-generational workforces have proven to be successful. As Jo Ann Jenkins, AARP CEO wrote in a column on LinkedIn, “Studies have shown that the productivity of both older and younger workers is higher in companies that have mixed-age work teams than in companies that do not and that age diversity within a team heightens performance in groups that must undertake complex decision-making tasks.”
The Right Thing to Do
Clearly there is ample evidence that older people have the spending power, the talent, and the numbers to demand attention from businesses, whether it’s in regards to marketing, selling, or hiring.
Business opportunities abound in senior-adjacent fields including health care, eldercare, financial planning, Internet of Things, and much more.
Instead of selling the false promise of eternal youth or using this market as the target of scams, why not embrace and cater to the specific needs of America’s aging populace? Too many businesses profit off of older people by preying on them instead of actually giving them the things they need: quality goods and services like everyone else. Ultimately, viewing aging people as assets and participants instead of a burden is the right (not to mention profitable) thing to do.