In June, world policy leaders met at the 2019 G20 Summit in Japan. For the first time in history, these leaders discussed the economic impact of global aging and declining birthrates. What does this mean for businesses? Bill Novelli, founder of the Global Social Economic Initiative (GSEI) at the McDonough School of Business said that one of the most important trends in the world today is the aging population. And this trend represents a significant opportunity for “nearly every industry.” Indeed, the aging population signifies economic, workplace, and innovation implications that forward-thinking businesses cannot ignore.
In 2015, 35% of the U.S. Population was already at least 50-years-old. Joseph Coughlin, Founder and Director of the MIT AgeLab and author of The Longevity Economy (2017) said that the aging population is enormous and is “begging for products that fill their demands.”
Coughlin stated that adults 50+ control 83% of household wealth in the U.S. Interestingly, Coughlin also reported that worldwide, women influence 64 percent of consumer purchases, and said that “female consumers will define the future of old age through their personal experiences, insights, and economic demand.”
In spite of the huge economic opportunity that has emerged, many businesses are not developing appropriate strategies to tap into this growing older market. As referenced in The Longevity Economy, the Boston Consulting Group found that “less than 15%” of businesses had a strategy that targeted older adults.
As every business operates within a larger culture of aging people, it is important to understand the needs of a huge but often neglected market. Older employees can offer valuable insights into the services and products that older consumers want or need. Often, these insights will help counter stereotypical assumptions of the past.
Melissa Gong Mitchell, executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, said, “Older people are the future of the workplace.” Mitchell pointed out that older workers are often more loyal, experienced, and possess valuable institutional knowledge.
In a 2018 article, Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging explained that older workers can offer experience and stability. They can serve as mentors for younger workers and can enhance workplace teams. “Age-diverse teams do better at problem-solving and generating ideas than same-age groups.”
Emotional intelligence and the wisdom that comes with experience is vital when working with co-workers, on teams, and with customers. According to Dr. Louise Aronson, author of Elderhood, older adults also tend to score better than younger subjects in areas like emotional intelligence and wisdom.
Businesses that welcome older workers do need to recognize the different needs of these employees and also need to provide inclusive team building and training. When a welcoming environment is encouraged, older workers can make value-added contributions to most businesses.
Business Development and Innovation Opportunities
Contrary to what some might believe, many older people are interested in technology. However, they are not ‘technology natives’ as are some younger people. Providing ongoing training in the use of new and emerging technologies can benefit everyone. Also, companies that sell technology products and services would do well to offer training to older users rather than assuming they are not interested.
Even though older workers can be a valuable asset for businesses, at some point, many workers would prefer to ‘retire’ but won’t necessarily be prepared to do so. A growing number of organizations are trying to assist workers by providing financial planning education and tools. Equally important is the lifestyle planning that needs to occur if workers are going to be psychologically ready to leave the workplace. Retirement coaching is an emerging field that is addressing lifestyle planning. This work can involve one-on-one training or it can involve group training. Often coaches are certified through various programs that specialize in this type of work.
Examples: Services for Boomers Aging in Place
Research reports that a strong majority of older adults prefer to age in place. Aging in place means that eventually, most older adults will eventually need to rely on others to some degree.
In my community, a reputable and enterprising handyman built his business by sending postcards to people in neighborhoods where he had done work. When I received one of the postcards, I talked to the neighbor who had first hired the handyman. Soon others of us were calling on this same handyman to help us with projects around our homes.
Helping older adults set up new technologies, computers, security systems, and smart devices in their homes could also be a good business opportunity for some. Even providing website development along with some training could be of value for older adults—especially for those interested in entrepreneurial opportunities after retiring.
An article by Susan Ward on business ideas for working with older adults included ideas like pet-sitting and house-sitting and house-cleaning. She also mentioned other services such as concierge activities that could include personal shopping or assisting with appointments.
Businesses that recognize the aging population as one of the most important trends today will have a significant advantage over competitors. Is your business ready?