The Future of Aging
Hearing aid glasses, spatial computing connections, and robot caretakers. Plus, the "Gerontocracy as Evil Empire" and the unstoppable momentum of older workers.
Welcome to Longevity Gains, your guide to succeeding with the world’s most profitable customer segment — older consumers.
When we talk about serving people in the longevity economy, it’s in recognition that the world population is getting older. Simple facts such as that between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world's population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22% often surprise people, even though we’ve known this demographic shift has been coming for quite a while.
That causes marketers and entrepreneurs to see dollar signs. But how those dollars are collected hinges on actually enhancing the experience of life for older people. And that requires some additional imagination.
For example, we’ve talked about why older people often refuse to wear hearing aids. Why? Besides the fact that hearing aids are expensive and ugly, older people simply don’t want to be seen wearing them because they feel it makes them “look old.”
On the other hand, people of all ages wear glasses to correct vision problems. And the frame can be as stylish as you want. So why not solve two problems at once?
Eyewear giant Luxottica’s conversation-amplifying glasses are aimed at the 1.5 billion people who suffer mild to moderate hearing loss. And they look just like normal glasses.
Then there’s the issue of loneliness, which is an affliction that affects people of all ages but can be especially hard on older people. Some see artificial intelligence as a solution, with the ElliQ virtual companion robot positioned as “the sidekick for healthier, happier aging.”
The AI has its own personality, and also nudges users to connect with their loved ones. Meanwhile, the Amazon Alexa-based Homecare app seeks to “complement real-world care and aims to improve well-being by connecting family, friends, and support services together.”
I’m still bullish on virtual and augmented reality to help older people connect with others from anywhere. Despite a rocky start thanks to Mark Zuckerberg’s seeming inability to understand humans, the slow-but-sure mainstream acceptance of spatial computing and the “metaverse” is now underway thanks to Apple.
Looking further into the future, we have the promise of robotics. Again, people of all ages may appreciate their own version of the Jetson family's robotic housekeeper Rosie. But the benefits to those who are much older may translate into more independence and vitality for longer.
I hear you… we’re not exactly in the position to design and manufacture robots as solo and small business people. But you have to think of the second-order effects for related change and opportunity:
What’s the effect on real estate design and development? Will there be an increased demand for homes designed with accessibility and robot-friendliness in mind? This could lead to a surge in smart homes equipped with technology to accommodate robot helpers.
The healthcare industry would certainly see impact. Robot helpers can significantly reduce the need for traditional caregiving services and usher in a new model of healthcare delivery focused on preventive and continuous care at home.
Robotics could expand the evolution of the retail and service industries that’s been happening since the pandemic. Local businesses might innovate to provide services and products directly to homes, taking advantage of the increased spending power of older consumers.
Plus, there’s all the new jobs and business opportunities that will arise from robotics:
Tech Integration Consultant: Advises older clients on integrating various technologies, including robots, into their daily lives.
Robotic Health Aide Technician: Provides maintenance and technical support for robots designed to assist with healthcare and medical needs.
Home Automation Architect: Designs and implements home layouts and systems optimized for robot assistance.
Gerontotechnology Educator: Teaches older individuals how to effectively use technology, including robotics, in their daily lives.
Tech Support Specialist: Provides tech support specifically tailored to the older people using robotic devices.
Here’s more (ironically generated by Chat-GPT).
This is mainly an exercise in getting you to think in terms of enhancing the experience of life for older people. And you’ll find plenty of ideas by contemplating the second-order implications of changes brought by age tech.
Aging Gracefully (The Future Normal)
The Gerontocracy Strikes Back
This year’s U.S. presidential election makes for a strange context when trying to educate marketers and entrepreneurs about the implications of a society and economy that’s shifting older. Despite the ageist marginalization that happens to people once they pass 50, all younger people seem to see are “old” people making important decisions for them.
So you’ll have to forgive the Star Wars reference, but I fear that older generations are being cast as the Evil Empire that the young Rebellion is battling. That’s not only inaccurate, it’s unhealthy for a society that’s already highly polarized along political lines.
The political context of 2024, however, will make divisions along generational lines more pronounced I’m afraid. When 68-year-old failing comedian Bill Maher thinks he’s entitled to make “old jokes” about the candidates in a futile bid to win over a younger audience that largely despises him, we’re fighting an uphill battle.
Writing at Esquire, Michael Clinton makes a lengthy case against obvious ageism that starts within the frame of politics and expands from there to show the folly of an unfair preference for youth:
The corollary is that anyone of a particular age should be replaced—by a younger, fresher alternative, naturally. These opinion-makers choose to ignore experience, wisdom, knowledge, competency, and ability. Instead, they focus on age as the metric for political cancellation.
And then Clinton once again refutes the common misconception that cognitive decline is rampant among older people:
With older politicians, the conversation also turns to cognitive decline. But the reality is that only 11.7 percent of older adults have some type of cognitive impairment. That's not much higher than the 10.8 percent of adults ages 45 to 65 who are impaired, according to Peter Kaldes, CEO of the American Society of Aging.
As for me, I’m not opining about the merits of the U.S. presidential candidates (at least not on the basis of age). The larger issue is that older people need to be respected by younger people before we ever have a shot at a harmonious intergenerational society and economy.
The Silver Lining for the Workforce
In more positive news, the perpetual labor shortage continues to prompt a pragmatic response when it comes to older workers. More people than ever are working past 65, and that number will continue to increase.
A Pew Research survey found nearly a fifth of Americans age 65 and older were employed in 2023, nearly double the three decades prior. Employees 55 and older will constitute over a quarter of the global workforce by 2031, according to an analysis from Bain & Co. last year.
These types of articles (this one in Fortune) continue to reinforce the idea that hiring and retaining older employees is not an act of goodwill, but rather an economic necessity:
This marks an unprecedented time for most workplaces, where the presence of retirement-age workers used to be rare. However, given the current U.S. labor shortage, it could be a win-win for those older workers and their employers alike. As the pool of older workers grows, so does the evidence that their presence on multigenerational teams can boost a company’s bottom line, foster innovation, and help combat widespread burnout.
There are plenty of good insights in this piece if you’re considering a business model related to longer work lives. But the main point to takeaway is that older people are going to work longer, period. The debate about whether it’s happening is over, and a massive shift in how we think about retirement is gaining momentum in a way that will continue spinning the longevity economy flywheel.
That’s all for now… have a great week!
P.S. Keep a lookout for the all new Longevity Gains referral program, where you can recommend this newsletter to friends and colleagues to earn access to Longevity Gains Premium. Details coming soon!