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Work Longer, Spend Longer, Thrive Longer
Companies need to retain older workers, but they're competing with midlife entrepreneurship for the best and brightest. Plus, the power and peril of nostalgia.
The world of work and entrepreneurship is changing before our eyes. In a word, it’s getting wiser. That’s thanks to older people staying in the economic game longer, and often as the people creating employment for other people.
But first, let’s talk about a potent marketing technique for older consumers – nostalgia.
We see a lot of nostalgia in marketing and advertising, because it turns out it’s less “bittersweet” than most people think. It makes most people experience positive emotions.
And the same is true with consumers over the age of 50, with some surprising twists that are unique to older people. But we’re not trying to call up “those were the days” kind of messages.
Instead, we’re trying to bond with our audience of older consumers in a powerful way.
And nostalgia can help make that happen.
But be careful. As you’ll hear in this week’s episode of the Longevity Gains podcast, poor execution of nostalgic messages can backfire spectacularly, especially with older people.
Wise and Radically Innovative
The Longevity Gains audience is almost entirely made up of people who are in the 50+ demographic themselves, and that’s a good thing. While younger people are always welcome here, it makes sense that those who will most easily connect with and innovate for older consumers are other older people.
Some may take issue with the “innovate” part there, but that’s just another youth-oriented myth. This is the myth of the “young entrepreneur” as the most innovative and successful.
We already know that older entrepreneurs are the most successful. Years of experience, connections, and earned wisdom most often make the difference between a successful startup and a failure.
Turns out the research says it’s more than that:
Our findings show that those who start businesses later in life (50 years old and above) are more likely to bring radical innovations to the market than younger business owners. These novel products and services are of great benefit to the economy. This means that skills and experiences of older entrepreneurs are highly valuable.
As we’ve discussed, existing companies need older workers due to a perpetual talent shortage. But they also need to wake up to the fact that they will lose their most valuable and innovative employees to entrepreneurship if they don’t value their older talent:
For the management of established companies, our findings suggest that older workers have a lot of innovation potential. Currently, these workers may leave their jobs and become entrepreneurs to pursue radically new and commercially successful ideas. Management should therefore challenge stereotypes about older workers and create work environments where older workers, with innovative ideas and broad skills, can drive innovation forward.
The more important point is that you can bring your wisdom and experience to the longevity economy in an innovative way as well. The competition for “seasoned talent” is just beginning.
Plus, think about serving the needs of these older entrepreneurs. Just be careful about buying into stereotypes about older people and technology or new tactics and strategies. We’re much more capable than the younger folk think we are.
An Early Sign of a Broader Trend
The state of Vermont is an early indicator of what we’ll see across the United States and most of the world as we shift to a much older population:
Vermont offers an early look at where the rest of the country could be headed. The baby boom population is aging out of the work force, and subsequent generations aren’t large enough to fully replace it. Immigration slumped during the pandemic, and though it has since rebounded, it is unclear how long that will last, given a lack of broad political support for higher immigration. Birthrates are falling.
While some Baby Boomers are coming back to work via unretirement, it’s not enough. And while Generation X isn’t large enough to make up for for the lack of younger workers, this trend should ensure that Xers who need and want to keep working will not be forced out.
But at the same time, many are simply sick of being dictated to by an employer. The pandemic was a pivotal point where people went out on their own, and they’re not coming back:
In the spirit of entrepreneurship, some employees either left work or stayed unemployed to open their own businesses. Over the last two years, nearly 10 million new business applications were filed and in 2020 alone more than 4 million new business were started.
The key to getting the longevity economy flywheel spinning is more people working later into life, and therefore spending longer. The upside of this is older workers and entrepreneurs will do a better job of serving their fellow older consumers, who will be the dominant sector of the broader economy.
Vermont May Be the Face of a Long-Term U.S. Labor Shortage (New York Times)
Understanding America’s Labor Shortage (U.S. Chamber of Commerce)
It may sound strange, but I love it when people say they don’t want to retire. Because that means they’ve found something they love to do, or a reason to get up in the morning (ikigai in Japanese culture).
But let’s face it, the most likely reason at this point that people are pushing back retirement is economic. With longer lifespans for healthy older people, few have the resources to live 30-40 years without working.
That’s the focus on this well-written piece from Canadian journalist Cathrin Bradbury:
The year since my retirement party has not been a dreamy passage to a welcoming future but a nerve-shattering trip into the unknown. My debt is swelling like a broken ankle; my hard-won savings may or may not be sucked into the vortex of an international market collapse. Can I keep my house? Who knows? The macroeconomy is messing with my microeconomy. The future keeps shape-shifting. And none of the careful planning I put into my retirement is going to change that.
As we know, the issue isn’t always a lack of retirement savings. It’s enough savings to live for many decades, which the original concept of retirement didn’t contemplate:
Every generation lives longer than the one that came before—nothing new there. But a fifty-year span between the end of work and the end of life is a long way from the original purpose of paid retirement, which was a very short bridge of financial support.
Bradbury then shifts to the uncomfortable truth about retirement. Without a sense of purpose, it can lead to depression and worse:
But here’s a more existential problem with retirement: it could kill you. People who stop working too soon may not have much time to live before they die. Shortened life expectancy can be predicted by a lack of purpose.
Bradbury’s advice may sound like a downer:
Want to keep your house? Support your kids? Stay alive? Never stop working.
But the message we need to get through in the longevity economy is that your later years are not about sitting around doing nothing except worrying that you’ll outlive your money. It’s time to find a “second act” career or business that delivers money, purpose, and more.
The End of Retirement (The Walrus)