Betty Friedan’s observation that “Aging is not `lost youth’ but a new stage of opportunity and strength” captured the main message from a roster of thoughtful and engaged speakers at the March 12 National Summit on “Tapping the Self-Reliant Power of Older Women” during the 2014 Aging in America Conference. Presented by ASA’s Business Forum on Aging, it was sponsored by CVS Caremark and chaired by consultant Barbara Hoenig. About 150 attendees heard from researchers and practitioners on women’s changing roles and how they can become trailblazers in the aging arena.
Maddy Dychtwald, co-founder and senior vice president of Age Wave, outlined the forces that influenced these changes in roles, citing mainly the move women made from economic dependence to their current presence in the U.S. workforce, making up nearly half of the workforce and 51 percent of the professional workforce. Many developing countries have seen that investment in the education of women and girls leads to an increase in the Gross Domestic Product.
Women also are changing the face of the longevity revolution, on average living an additional 30 years. For many women, this added stage inspires anxiety and excitement. They worry about saving enough for retirement but also view this as a time to blend work and leisure and to try new work that might better align with their interests and passions.
Despite advances achieved by women in the workforce, Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, said many employers are not using older adults effectively in the workplace. They don’t offer them the valued development opportunities that can lead to increased productivity, and don’t take advantage of the leadership and mentoring older workers could offer to younger workers.
In response to such challenges, 34 million mature workers report that they want to start their own businesses. According to Elizabeth Isele, co-founder and CEO of Senior Entrepreneurship Works, this is one way that “the silver lining of our extended work lives can yield golden dividends.”
But entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Marci Alboher, vice president, Encore.org, emphasized that many in this age group, both men and women, seek work that will allow them to make a living and make a difference, something they may not have been able to accomplish at an earlier stage in their lives. Their life experience often makes them uniquely qualified to fill jobs that aren’t as suitable for young people.
The ability to take full advantage of this new life stage also assumes good health and access to quality care when needed. Helping older adults remain active, engaged and living in their own homes should be the healthcare system’s goal, according to Gretchen Alkema, vice president, policy and communications, The SCAN Foundation.
Low-income elders are even more vulnerable and have far less access to care. Eileen Eidem, director of the Office of Women’s Health, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, emphasized the importance of educating the women’s health community and facilitating collaboration among key stakeholders to make changes in improving the quality of care available to this population.
Katy Fike, co-founder of Aging2.0, offered a final vision of technology as a tool to help older adults feel more connected, empowered and engaged, and as a way to promote independence and help them remain in their own homes.
Women’s added life stage can be a new avenue of opportunity and strength, as long as they have the health, quality care and energy to take advantage of it.
Phyllis Snyder is vice president of The Council for Adult & Experiental Learning (CAEL), headquartered in Chicago, Ill.
Editor’s Note: This article appears in the May/June 2014 issue of Aging Today, ASA’s bi-monthly newspaper covering issues in aging research, practice and policy. ASA members receive Aging Today as a member benefit; non-members may purchase subscriptions at our online store.
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