Joe Coughlin, the director of the MIT Age Lab, wants to help companies unlock the world’s fastest-growing, most misunderstood market — aging Boomers. His new book, The Longevity Economy, describes how companies can prepare for the guaranteed — an aging world.
By 2050, people over 65 will be more than 16.7% of the world’s population—and more than 25% of the populations of some European and Asian countries. Yet “less than 15 percent of companies have established any sort of strategies focused on older adults.” Meanwhile, older women in particular are projected by economists to have a huge influence on the marketplace as they outnumber men and are more in control of household spending and finances.
Women’s notions of what old age is farther away from the current narrative than those of men. As a result, traditional products aimed at older adults tend to serve female consumers especially poorly.
Coughlin goes on to show in detail why Silicon Valley and other tech hubs are, in their bias toward the young and male as both workers and consumers, missing a huge opportunity. Coughlin even argues that if American businesses could find ways to capture the productivity of an older workforce, they could improve America’s GDP. Convinced that home sharing, grocery delivery, and online dating sites are examples of services that transcend age in their appeal, he makes a striking case for putting a new, less generically young and male face on entrepreneurship, product design, and marketing.
The experience of old age is changing. A new class of people is noticing that the 20th-Century story of how to live after age 50 or 60 is no guarantee of satisfaction later in life. And so they are striking out on their own. They’re finding new ways to live and new ways to support those narrative twists—sometimes with the help of cutting-edge new products and sometimes, when the cutting edge isn’t sharp enough, by creating their own.
Coughlin pinpoints the gap between myth and reality and then shows businesses how to bridge it. As the demographics of global aging transform and accelerate, it is now critical to build a new understanding of the shifting physiological, cognitive, social, family, and psychological realities of the longevity economy.
The problem is not so much that companies are afraid of age. It’s that they think they understand it — but that “understanding” is woefully incomplete. The dominant narrative of old age, taken for granted by almost everyone, portrays the elderly as:
- Having a diminishment of output, such as work, ideas, cultural products.
- The belief that older people are always takers, never givers; always consumers, never producers.
- Companies make products that, at their core, are designed for passive participants in society.
Meanwhile, older people increasingly demand to be active participants. That fundamental disconnect, combined with the mind-boggling wealth and size of the burgeoning older population, is enough to turn entire industries inside out as new entrants figure out how to give older adults the tools they need to participate, create, build, and influence the world around them.
This book should inspire entrepreneurs of all generations to dust off their best business plans and make products that are exciting for all ages and abilities.
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