As a longstanding advocate, public speaker, and thought leader in the movement for positive aging, I am one of a growing number of individuals worldwide committed to raising public awareness and expanding conversation about the fundamental issues affecting longevity, ageism, and the quality of life as we age.
Vital to any discussion of age is the willingness of all participants to accept, if not embrace, the changes we see in others as ones we can anticipate for ourselves. By doing so, we can better begin to reevaluate long-held perceptions and misperceptions popularly held about aging and more readily address the underlying, root causes of ageism.
Those already aware of the growing demographic shift and the ramifications of inaction have a head start in preparing for the impact and opportunities that await them. Many participants who engage in conversation are proactive, entrepreneurial, and open to the possibilities inherent in the global longevity revolution.
The impact of aging can be seen in literally every sector of our society. Despite this reality, I continue to be surprised by the public’s general lack of awareness as well as predictably reactive behavior whenever I speak about aging, aging issues, or ageism.
Two recent examples are worth noting both for the diversity of the audience and the specific issues I addressed. This past April, I spoke at the California Entrepreneurship Educators Conference held at San Diego State University. The conference attracted top business educators and department heads from universities across the country and around the world.
For a group of bright young students enrolled in the entrepreneurial program at SDSU, I was pleased to conduct a workshop on Understanding the Aging Market. My youth entrepreneurship presentation was in addition to my resourceful talk on Entrepreneurial Opportunities in an Age of Longevity and Transformation. In both instances, I was surprised to learn how little attention was being given to the global shift in demographics and the rapidly expanding aging market.
While eager to learn, I found student perceptions of older adults to be steeped in outdated stereotypes of what and who they thought of as “old.” Little was known about elder consumers’ buying habits, interests, needs, disposable income, or what the future might hold in targeting the longevity market.
The conference was exceptional, eye opening, and forward thinking on many levels. Emphasis was placed on expanding intra-departmental and community collaboration, experiential learning, and the development of more social entrepreneur opportunities. I was struck however, by the lack of attention being paid to elders as consumers, entrepreneurs, or collaborative resources.
As someone at the conference said to me, “the emphasis hasn’t been there because aging hasn’t typically been a topic of conversation within the business community. What you’re doing, Jeff, is making the invisible, visible to all.” So, who is this invisible market? Consider the following. By 2020, 55 million Americans will be 65 or older. In ten years, that figure is expected to grow to 70 million. *
Currently, those 55 and older, contribute roughly $7.1 trillion dollars to the economy, a figure expected to grow to over $13 trillion dollars by 2030.** 85 plus is now the fastest growing age group in America today, and there are more people over the age of 85 than under five. The fastest growing age group for new entrepreneurs is 60 and older.
This prevalent lack of awareness is not limited to only students and academics, as I recently discovered whilst speaking with Area Agency on Aging staff, social workers, and other aging service professionals at the June 9-11 “2019 Optimal Aging Conference” in Louisville, KY.
Given the nature of the conference, I felt my audience would welcome a conversation about ageism, or at the very least be familiar with how age discrimination will likely impact their lives and those whom they serve.
I gave my presentation, “A Conversation About Ageism for Thought Leaders and Thought Leaders to Be,” with the intention of educating and engaging my audience in a comprehensive discussion of the ageism-associated issues, what’s being done nationally and internationally to address them, and hopefully, to inspire them to take ownership and action within their respective communities.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered there was little awareness of ageism among conference attendees, nor thought given to ageism as an overriding, yet separate issue than the ones typically addressed. To me, many local leaders appear to necessarily address only their organization’s specific focus, what I consider to be individual symptoms of a deeper, underlying root cause. I share this idea constantly.
Ageism is after all, a major issue in America, as it is around the world. Ageism discriminates against the young as well as the old. Yet, ageism is so ingrained within our culture that we hardly even notice it, unless of course you’re on the receiving end of an intended or unintended painful outcome.
Far from feeling disheartened by my recent experiences, I’m motivated more than ever to educate, engage, and connect with individuals and organizations willing to take a stand in confronting age discrimination, wherever, whenever, and however it takes place.
Each of us have the capacity to bring about real and effective change. Whether we do so in our own lives, our community, or our nation, we can demonstrate our ability in ways both large and small. Whatever we choose to do, one thing is certain: real change takes commitment, resolve, courage, cooperation, and the willingness to stand up and be counted.
Discrimination of any kind, particularly one based solely upon a number or a wrinkle, sooner or later impacts each one of us. No meaningful change is ever accomplished alone. That’s why I invite you to join me now in lending your voice and support to a movement dedicated to creating a positive view of aging both today and for the future.
There are many ways we can work together, both large and small. I’m eager to discuss how.
Call me at 520-353-0255 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
* U.S. Census 2010
** Oxford Economics – 2017
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