Part Two. Longevity Economy, a Rose by Any Other Name?
No small wonder why it feels like a dance with words when I try to explain a Longevity Economy in conversation with everyday people who are not so focused on the subject of aging population and demographic shifts or even with those who are actively involved in work connected with aging and longevity, delivering products, services, research and community development.
Why? Well of course with a Longevity Economy, as with global narratives on many other topics, there are so many descriptions, catchy (it’s all down to marketing) substitute phrases and in this case differing age demarcations, and dare I say, differing cultural attitudes and professional perspectives that frame the topic in countless reports and studies.
Having said that, a good thing that has happened, more noticeably over the last five years, is that professionals in business, science, medicine and technology, academic research and social policy fields have shared the same platforms, such as conferences, to discuss trends and issues, exchanging innovative ideas related to aging and longevity. Yet often in that effort, there is a dance with words.
Searching for 50 plus markets, catchy substitute phrases
In part one of this Making Sense of a Longevity Economy blog series (Jan.22), I chose to lead with the US-based AARP definition: the sum total of all economic activity driven by the needs of Americans in a 50 plus age cohort that includes both products and services they purchase directly and the further economic activity this spending generates. We can say this definition applies to Canadians, as our economic activity is quite similar.
Prior to the recognition of the broader notion of a Longevity Economy in recent years, it has been mostly about labelling a market. We lived with, and still do, phrases such as a 50 plus Market, or a Seniors Market, a Zoomer market and my favourite, the mythical Mature Market – as compared to what, an immature market?
With these phrases in a 21st century longevity framework, marketers will have to sharpen the focus and get their heads wrapped around the fact that, as Joseph Coughlin states in his book Longevity Economy“… ‘the old’ make up of a population [is] so diverse that it almost defies characterization. Depending on when you decide when old age begins….aging unfolds differently for everyone.”
Further still to support Coughlin’s thinking, as Theodore Roszak said in his book Longevity Revolution “As longevity assumes the dimensions of a second lifetime… terms like “seniors”, “elders”, “retired” – run the risk of blurring more than they clarify.”
Is there Silver in them there hills?
As we travel across the world to places like Europe or Asia, do we find any more clarity? Perhaps not. Enter the snazzy moniker – Silver Economy. Originating sometime around twelve years ago, current definitions have several interesting, sometimes narrow and not so endearing verbal twists, using different demarcated age bands. Here are but three, the first one coming closest, even sharpening the AARP Longevity Economy definition:
“The European Silver Economy is the part of the economy that concerns Europe’s older citizens. It includes all the economic activities relevant to the needs of older adults, and the impact on many sectors… closely linked to current trends in Europe’s demographics, and the effects on older adults’ quality of life and on the wider European economy.”
“The Silver Economy is dedicated to the elderly in our societies. As its name suggests, the Silver Economy is not a “market” but a cross “economy”. Whether we are talking of the greying economy, the ageing economy or the Silver Economy, alluding to the greying hair of the elderly, governments and industry players imagine new policies and products in order to respond to the ageing population needs.”
“The Silver Economy…used actually to define the Senior market …and covers all products and services intended for people aged over 60 years. More formally, “All products and services that are expected to improve disability-free life expectancy or to help dependent elderly people and their caregivers on a day-to-day basis”.
For a really good read though, try this masterful piece titled “The Silver Economy as a Pathway for Growth” – a collaborative effort between three groups: the OECD, the Global Coalition on Aging and the University of Oxford – Harris Manchester College; this 2014 compilation of insights as they call it, really drills it down to five well-articulated interconnected themes.
Longevity Economy, a rose by any other name? Call it senior, call it grey, or call it elderly (yikes, most out of date of all) and you are likely not on the right scent. Is it nifty at 50, or silver at 60? The age entry points and boundaries in marketing to an aging consumer are all blurred. As the EU definition reminds us, demographic change will increasingly affect the changing make up of all 21st century societies.
What is now important to realize is there are many markets, consumer facing and non-consumer facing that make up a Longevity Economy. Even then, the scope of this economy is wider and deeper than is normally understood.