What Role Should Government Play in Sparking the Longevity Economy?
China's "Silver Economy," strengthening age discrimination laws in the U.S., defeating ageist storylines, working with subjective age, and solving the loneliness problem.
Hey there, welcome to Longevity Gains!
In this issue, we’re diving into some topics that have immediate implications for your marketing, plus a potential business idea:
Avoiding and refuting ageist storylines
Accounting for subjective age in your marketing
Solving the loneliness problem for older people
But first, let’s explore the role of government in shaping and accelerating the necessary changes that must occur for a harmonious transition to an older society and its accompanying economic ramifications.
On one hand, we have the “total control” approach of the People's Republic of China. And on the other, we have the laissez faire market approach of the United States, which is just now adding some teeth back into a law that was supposed to protect older people from age discrimination in the workplace all along.
While the premise of Longevity Gains is that market forces will bring about the most meaningful change in the shortest amount of time (as with the creation of youth culture), that doesn’t mean that a bit of stick combined with the carrot isn’t welcome.
Let’s look at the issues.
China Aims to Turn Silver Into Gold
Recall the science fiction and future-forward narratives of the 1980s and 90s, and China literally rules the planet. The reality in 2024 is very different thanks to the same demographic shifts we’re seeing throughout the world – but more so in China.
China's demographic landscape has transformed rapidly, with the number of elderly over the age of 65 reaching 14.9 percent. When combined with negative population growth, this prompts a strategic reevaluation of economic objectives.
This translates to a dwindling labor supply and the inevitable slowing of growth. But because the Chinese population is so large, and the government has so much control over the marketplace, a swift reorganization of initiatives may save the day.
Keep in mind that this news release is essentially Chinese propaganda, but the initiatives announced make perfect sense if you have a basic understanding of our aging world population:
Acknowledging the changing needs of the labor market, China is emphasizing the significance of vocational education. The emphasis moves from generating general-purpose graduates to fostering skilled professionals, closing the gap between demand and supply in the labor market.
One thing you’ll see emphasized over and over again as the world population ages is education. Training, retraining, and “encore careers” will become the norm and present vast commercial opportunities.
Rather than seeing the aging population as a burden, China sees it as an opportunity to establish a "silver economy." A plan for the development of the country's elderly care services system during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025) underlines the possibilities of merging eldercare with other industries such as the cultural entertainment industry, tourism and universities for the elderly.
The benefit for Western entrepreneurs and businesses is it’s up to us to make these educational avenues available in lieu of a state-controlled economy. In fact, waiting on the U.S. government to enact anything substantial in these times of political division is a fool’s errand.
China's Silver Economy: A Path to Sustainable Growth (China Global Television Network)
Getting Real About Age Discrimination in the U.S.
Meanwhile in the United States, lawmakers are working to bolster protections against age discrimination in the workplace. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 forbids employment discrimination against people age 40 and over, but there hasn’t been much use for it lately.
That’s because a 2009 Supreme Court decision effectively made it impossible to succeed with an age bias claim under the Act. On Dec. 4, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) to remedy the effects of that court decision:
“More than a decade ago, the Supreme Court undermined protections for older workers by setting an unreasonable burden of proof for age discrimination claims,” Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va said in a press release. POWADA, he added, “would finally restore the legal rights of older workers by ensuring that the burdens of proof in age discrimination claims are treated in the same manner as other discrimination claims.”
From a marketing standpoint, this won’t influence your messages or business opportunities. But it may work to speed up the process of more and longer participation in the workforce by older workers, which kicks in the longevity economy flywheel that permanently alters the U.S. economy.
Playing to Subjective Age in Your Marketing
One of the most substantial aspects of marketing to older consumers versus “everyone else” is subjective age. Seeing someone who looks like you along with a product or service is usually an initial step to sparking a psychological self-association.
But what happens when older people don’t “see someone who looks like them” based on their perception of themselves, even if that person is as old as they are? This is how subjective age works, which means that most people tend to perceive themselves as younger than their chronological age.
Marketers in the Senior Living Industry are seeing first hand that taking subjective age into account works wonders in ads, brochures, websites, and emails to attract potential residents to “paint a picture of a vibrant and exciting life in the later years.”
For general longevity economy marketers, this is good news that validates one of the core concepts we’ve explored when it comes to appealing to active and healthy older consumers. It’s not just that this cohort of healthy older consumers exists, it’s that they’re likely the most active spenders as well.
In the case of senior living, though, there’s the issue of product-market fit. When active agers visit the site after being drawn in by these ads, the reality is often very different.
That’s because the current residents of senior living facilities are often not in the best shape, both due to being of an older generation and because people who are in need of senior living are often suffering from impairment. Worse, these sunny advertisements filled with healthy agers may deter older people with infirmities from exploring care they truly need.
Remember, only 2.5% of Americans over 65 reside in a nursing home, and three-quarters of people 85+ live their lives without personal assistance. It seems that there’s a market gap here when it comes to intermediate living arrangements for older people.
Again, for most of us, the benefits of incorporating awareness of subjective age into your messages aimed at active agers is clear and unequivocal. But we’re still left with uncomfortable questions about messages for those older people who aren’t doing as well healthwise.
Changing the Narrative About Older People
The prevailing story about older consumers has three primary components:
First, older people are weak, helpless, and dependent on others (including broader society) to survive and function. These people are no longer living vibrant lives; they’re just waiting to die.
Second, we have the retirement myth. This part of the story says older people are all quietly sequestered away from society in retirement communities and nursing homes where they belong, waiting for the onset of dementia or death to whisk them away for good.
And third, it’s somehow assumed that older people enjoy this mythical scenario. Our concept of retirement is one of idyllic contentment instead of fixed-income worry, so many people seem to think that not having to work and being separated from younger age groups is wonderful.
The reality is that older consumers expect to be treated as someone looking to get the most out of life, not as an inconsequential person with a series of ailments and afflictions that needs to be segregated from the rest of society.
Beyond that, here are some dated “talking points” to position your message against courtesy of anti-ageism activist, speaker, and consultant Janine Vanderburg:
Business Idea: Alleviating Loneliness
Loneliness is quietly spreading across our society according to Robert Waldinger, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and it’s a deadly epidemic that affects people of all ages.
Waldinger equates loneliness to smoking half a pack of cigarettes daily, causing stress, accelerated brain decline, and a loss of overall well-being. These problems can be even more acute for older people.
Over 14 million older adults live alone in the U.S., according to the Administration on Aging. Unfortunately, loneliness and isolation are serious issues with deleterious health implications. Both are linked to decreased physical and mental health, as well as increased mortality. In fact, The National Institute on Aging notes loneliness and isolation can lead to higher risk of depression in people as they age.
Most people assume older people are with others in retirement communities and senior living facilities, but as we know this is far from everyone. Plus, loneliness can be present even when around others, just like solitude can be bliss if chosen by the individual.
The answer is belonging to a true community. But for those who are truly isolated from family and likeminded others, it can be a challenge. Can virtual communities be an answer?
We know that older people are much more internet-savvy than they’re given credit for, and this will become even less debatable as those currently at midlife move into later years. And while Meta managed to give virtual reality a bad name, Apple is repositioning the field as spatial computing with its VisionPro headset coming in March.
If anyone can make augmented and virtual interaction acceptable (and even cool), it’s Apple. And if the technology catches on with older people as prices come down, Apple will truly solidify itself as the preferred brand of the 50+ set.
The question becomes, how can you use this emerging technology to create a true community for older adults? Remember to think in terms of stage of life rather than chronological age as a starting point for connecting like minded older people together.
That’s all for this week. If you’re enjoying Longevity Gains, please consider sharing this issue. Thank you!