By Michael W. Hodin
Aging Today’s end-of-year 2018 In Focus section, “Global Aging and the Future of the World Community,” is prescient as it is the perfect set-up to 2019, which heralds the tipping point for the mega-trend of population aging. Global leaders from the WHO to the IMF, including my own Global Coalition on Aging, in 2019 are preparing for what will become the Decade of Healthy Ageing. This WHO initiative kicks off in 2020 following the World Health Assembly, as a central piece of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.
Today it is clear that underlying demographic realities of aging—100-year lives for those born in the 21st century and a global population that is now more old than young—prompt businesses and governments alike, from Japan and Chile, across the European Union to China, Brazil, Turkey and the United States, to re-imagine how we live, learn, work and play.
What shall we do with our much longer lives? How do we live our lives and serve as models for our children and grandchildren to live theirs? How will we organize society in light of this profound transformation? What public policies and institutions will survive, and in what form? And what new constructs are needed for success at this historic moment?
A New Social Contract for Longer Lives
Some have suggested we need a new social contract—one that will remain relevant for a century in which longevity and population aging (more old than young) is the norm. And while there is much to be done to ensure healthier aging, it is equally important that there be active aging. The colloquium in the WHO Initiative will track the major issues to be addressed and point to solutions that will replace 20th century norms. Consider the following three ideas that will help shape the Decade of Healthy Ageing and reframe institutions, markets and public policy to leverage the aging opportunity for shared social values and continued economic growth.
Institutional Change: A culture shift in the core institutional structures of society—education, work, leisure and healthcare—first will require an end to ageism. It is that subtle, even subliminal set of attitudes that lead to everything from assumptions about when and how we educate ourselves, how long and in what ways we work and even what health conditions warrant dedicated research and spending.
Simply attaching an additional 30 to 40 years of life onto the mid-20th century life span construct is unworkable and dissatisfying. And, change will not happen without a most basic culture shift to assume that life can be just as active and fulfilling in the later decades as it was in earlier years. Furthermore, the promise of a full life for today’s children must expect and incorporate value as they get old.
Critically, the understanding of and expunging of ageism does not mean there is special privilege; rather, it is precisely the reverse—that opportunities for a full life and functional ability (as the new WHO Ageing and Health Strategy contemplates) be as possible and promising for people in their 70s, 80s and beyond as they are for people in their 20s and 30s. Championing ongoing education across the life span, creating new opportunities during the so-called retirement phase and treating spending as investments in healthy aging at all ages is a mutually valuable set of goals for everyone.
Markets: Healthcare and financial services companies have already understood the huge market growth and business development opportunities in targeting the older-than-age 60 demographic. But with 70 percent of disposable income in the United States, and a growing number of other countries being held by those older than age 60, how can all businesses—retail, consumer, fashion, entertainment, technology and travel—not look for such market opportunity? Businesses must understand that planning for longer lives starts well before age 60, which opens an even larger economic and market opportunity—a whole cohort of consumers who recognize that maximizing our longevity will be a result of decisions that challenge conventional wisdom and which must be made along the life course.
As businesses realize the older-than-age 60 demographic is a target market, surely it will follow that employers also will employ people older than age 60. For example, Home Instead Senior Care recognizes that older caregivers generally connect best with their clients, who are primarily older adults. Up to a third of Home Instead’s caregiving workforce is older than age 60. In New York City—one of the globally premier Age-Friendly Cities—the accounting firm PKF O’Connor Davies this year received an Age Smart Employer award, an initiative of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. PFK O’Connor Davies actively recruits older accountants who were forced to retire from other firms; more than a third of its accountants are older than age 50. Also honored this year was Steinway & Sons; the company recognizes the value of experience and human craftsmanship in manufacturing great pianos and has built an internal advancement structure to retain workers for decades—some for as many as 50 years.
This new understanding of markets is leading the Global Coalition on Aging to convene the first global business conference on aging on July 9–10, 2019, in Helsinki, Finland. Working with global business leaders, we aim to guide employers across all sectors in how the aging demographic is good for their business strategies, their workplaces and their social engagement with the community. From Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s on-staff financial gerontologist and Philips’ exit from the lighting business to focus on health to Bayer’s corporate-wide commitment to healthy aging, companies across diverse sectors will share why aging is a critical lens through which they are viewing some of their most important business decisions.
Public Policy: Even if we begin to change the culture, root out ageism and lift business opportunities toward an aging society, we will still need public policy to provide incentives and reduce the barriers of disincentives. Good areas to start might be elder caregiving, remote care and innovative therapies—all channels to enable healthier and more active aging.
Policymakers must recognize that caring for aging loved ones is the new normal; today’s systems for providing and financing eldercare needs do not reflect this reality. We need tax and savings vehicles that help people save for aging in place (e.g., to pay for homecare services, assistive technologies, home renovations) and reimbursement models that reflect effective, efficient delivery of remote-care technology. Re-imagining, redefining and restructuring care cannot wait because, while human aging is not new, the aging of our societies is.
Policymakers must embrace, encourage and facilitate innovation through policies that pursue steady progress against diseases and conditions associated with aging. Investments in incremental innovation must be made to lead to the breakthrough therapies that will revolutionize healthy aging for generations to come.
Michael W. Hodin is CEO, Global Coalition on Aging, and managing partner, High Lantern Group, in New York.
Editor’s Note: This article appears in the November/December 2018 issue of Aging Today, ASA’s bi-monthly newspaper covering issues in aging research, practice and policy nationwide. ASA members receive Aging Today as a member benefit; non-members may purchase subscriptions at our online store.