It is time to renew our traditional worldview about the older adults.
The faces of the world will look very different by 2050 as people live longer and birth rates continue to drop globally. Specifically, in the US, there will be more 65+ adults than 18- adults starting in 2034 (National Population Projections, 2017). As older adults comprise 23% of the US population by 2050, there will be fewer working age adults (15-64 years) to support the young and older adults. Are we prepared for this future?
Based on our traditional worldview, societies with older populations are predicted to be less productive and face higher healthcare burden. There could be some truth to this, particularly if we do not make any changes in our society to evolve how we support our older adults. We have a key potential here to convert this aging society into an asset. In perceived challenges lie opportunities.
As older adults are living longer and healthier, their workforce participation has also been increasing (US Senate Aging Workforce Report 2017). While the participation rates of 65- will change minimally, those of 65+ are growing significantly along with a corresponding increase in their earnings. Also, those who remain in the workforce after 65 tend to be better educated on average and are more likely to have a graduate degree relative to the 65- cohorts. As robotics and automation increases, we may mainly need human workforce for roles that need more advanced decision-making.
Most 65+ older adults who continue working may do so out of financial necessity. However, some others do so because they enjoy work, find meaning in it, and view it as an opportunity to interact with others. Older workers were often reported to be more engaged at work than younger workers (Gallup Poll, US Daily Tracking, 2014). They value the opportunities to learn new skills and remain physically, socially, and cognitively active. In a 2012 national survey, when 65+ adults were asked about the major factor influencing their decision to be working: 57% cited money while 79% cited job enjoyment as the key decision factor.
And in some other cases, older adults may be forced to return to work due to their circumstances. The US opioid epidemic has led to a number of older Americans and family members taking responsibility for ~2.6M children left behind by their parents. This has in turn caused grandparents to return to work after retirement. We would generally expect the aging population to increase the caregiving responsibilities for working age adults. Yet, it is important to recognize that in some cases 65+ adults may also be caregiving for their 90+ parents or their 14- grandchildren.
Older adults are not only working more and earning more but may also be spending more. By 2030, the 55+ population will account for 50% of growth in the US GDP domestic consumer spending (AARP 2019 Longevity Economy Outlook). It is time for us to objectively reconsider how to make products, services, policies, and infrastructure that are ageless. Lets design more products with empathy for this growing older adults segment while being inclusive of their needs.
I hope these alternative perspectives highlight that older adults don’t just have to be viewed as people who need help, they also have a lot more to give! We need to strive to create more balanced relationships with our older adults.
Please join hands with Blooming Health to create more opportunities in our society to tap into the potential and wisdom of our older adults in a way that creates purpose for them and value to our society!
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