Making Sense of a Longevity Economy: Business, Career & Community – 1

Part One.

Testing the awareness and understanding of a Longevity Economy.

This is what I am conversationally provoked to do – over the last few years, informing everyday people of its meaning and highlighting the opportunities for a business, a career and a community. Breaking it down for simple clarity, with enough examples to prove the present and future relevance of this evolving Longevity Economy, can seem a lengthy process considering it is not the only story in the daily news churn of the many elements that make up a larger world economy.

So what is a simple definition? Where to begin this understanding. Well, we can start with a rather largely accepted US-based AARP definition, a Longevity Economy being 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.

Of course, that isn’t usually enough because the next thing to answer is – what is contained in this economic activity? Some products and services purchased directly by a 50 plus age cohort are obvious – in categories like medical care, caregiving, financial planning, retirement homes and other age-targeted products like stair lifts and walk-in bathtubs, but older adults still purchase consumer goods from cars to groceries and entertainment to travel.

Economic activity less obvious than consumer facing products and services includes the fact that older adults to a greater degree than before, continue to contribute to the economy by working longer in traditional workplaces (full-time, part-time or short-term contracting) and in new entrepreneurial endeavours.

In addition, there are new careers and business opportunities ahead, for instance as we look at the innovations in technology and aging for new product development, not to mention all the research and scientific investments in longevity projects that focus on life issues like improving life expectancy. Most of this activity has not surfaced in direct consumer everyday usage.

Gaps, disconnects in understanding Longevity Economy

If you want to deepen this general understanding, go first to an AARP 2012 presentation, Mapping the Longevity Economy followed by their 2016 update report in partnership with Oxford Economics which details this definition – The Longevity Economy: How People Over 50 Are Driving Economic and Social Value in the US. According to then current estimates, this economy was worth well over $7 trillion in the US alone.

Then read the November 2017 book by Joseph Coughlin, The Longevity Economy – Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market. I heard Coughlin speak in Toronto back in April 2012 and he is certainly a compelling big think leader in this space. He founded MIT’s Age Lab in 1999 and, no surprise he is currently on the Board of AARP.

As with a number of businesses, there are huge missed opportunities in their attempt to market products and services to a 50 plus cohort. And for some within the inner circle of professionals directly engaged in work connected with aging and longevity, delivering products, services, research and community development there are often gaps or disconnects in understanding a Longevity Economy, recognizing the size, segments and scope of a 50 plus cohort.

Even choosing an age demarcation of 50 is problematic, for instance when some surveys or reports set up age 60 or 65 as the base in their narrative, while in other reports we are asked to accept a broader scope of 50 plus.

A 50 plus market in 2019, in its evolution

Further still, sticking with the 50 plus header, there is often little upfront dialogue about the fact that an older adult life course adapts and transforms over a potential full fifty years. It is no longer all about predictable behaviour of age bands or segments, but it is also more about recognizing that people have non-linear life patterns and episodic experiences.

Lifting from Joseph Coughlin in his book’s introduction, “… old age is also the only time in life that routinely sees new years added to it …. ‘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.”

Hard to close an introduction that is meant to clarify with observations such as these, but what also makes this Longevity Economy so misunderstood is that it is quite often framed as a Boomers story, but in its evolution the 50 plus market in 2019 now includes Gen-X and by 2030 the first Millennials who will be turning 50. Can you imagine how marketing to a 50 plus consumer might change?

A Longevity Economy is fluid. Constantly redefining, it has unique social value and economic value in diverse communities. In the decade or so ahead its global worth may not be solely evaluated by patterns of economic activity driven by a US market and it will most certainly be driven by more than one generations’ expectations and experiences.

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