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7 Insights on Ageism That May Surprise You

What resonated with a writer who attended The Ageist conference

By Diane Johnson Flynn

I had the opportunity to speak at The Ageist conference in Los Angeles recently, a first-of-its-kind symposium to examine the economic and social impact of the modern 50+ demographic. What a dynamic, energized, well-connected community of people who want to change the world and live with purpose.

Senior man standing at the entrance of house
Credit: Adobe

First, some facts about this market that shocked me. Did you know...

  • Women over 55 are the fastest growing age/gender workforce category.  (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • Participation by men over 55 in the workforce is expected to decline by 3% in the next 10 years. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • 74% of those over 65 plan to work, versus 14% in 1995. (Gallup Poll 2017)
  • There are now more people over 65 than under 5 worldwide, making the aging population the No. 1 biggest economic opportunity. (And women are the primary consumers in many categories.)
  • People 50+ will continue to grow over the next decade to the tune of 19 million, vs. a growth of only 6 million for the 18-49 population.

This means companies better take notice, because their workforce will be older and because this demographic represents a huge market opportunity.

My 7 Favorite Insights From The Ageist Conference

The following are my seven favorite insights from the speakers:

  1. Don’t just design FOR us. Design WITH us. Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Center for the Future of Aging, emphasized the importance of human-centered design, and that designing the best products and services for this older generation absolutely MUST include the end-users in the process.
  2. People with a sense of purpose live 7.5 years longer. Purpose has more impact than any other intervention, like working out, vitamins, or healthy eating. In my coaching practice, I find that most people over 50 struggle to find purpose. I believe it’s why many women start their own entrepreneurial ventures, which provide meaning, flexibility, and social impact.
  3. If you’re 50, you may only be halfway through your adult life. Bestselling author Chip Conley had this realization as he joined the Airbnb executive team at 52. Since then, he has adopted new sports and adventures, in addition to founding the Modern Elder Academy in Baja where all ages can celebrate life with like-minded lifelong learners. I am looking forward to co-hosting a women’s week there in January 2020 for those seeking reinvention.
  4. We must move from reverence to relevance, and relevance is equal parts wisdom and curiosity. That’s Chip Conley’s guidance on how to work with those half your age. Relevance is earned by staying nimble and continually learning and growing.
  5. Be a peer of whomever you are with. This advice from television producer Norman Lear at 95, who took up a new hobby every two years, is profound. Most people feel decades younger than they look, so connecting with multiple generations may be easier than you think.
  6. Change INvisible to IMvisible. Those over 50 often feel invisible, whether it’s being ignored by the media, advertisers or the hiring manager. We all need to change that. A fellow panelist proudly displayed her beautiful long gray hair and said her mission is to change the narrative around appearance. Chip says that when we’re curious and passionate, the wrinkles fall away. We all have a responsibility to make ourselves relevant and visible, and each of us can do our part to shape the way this growing demographic is viewed.
  7. “Where are the men?”  David Stewart, co-organizer of The Ageist conference, asked this provocative question after looking at the audience, about 80% of whom were women.

Why are so many women interested in finding purpose later in life? Speculation from The Financial Times suggests that women have more time after their children are grown, live longer and stay healthier than men, and their higher educational attainment (in absolute terms and relative to men) means that they are more likely to be in knowledge-based jobs that they can hold on to as they age.

Perhaps women also feel more purpose. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, says, “What took me from the kitchen to Congress was knowing that one in five children in America lives in poverty. I just can’t stand that.”

(This article previously appeared on LinkedIn.)

Diane Johnson Flynn
Diane Johnson Flynnis a retired MSW who spent her career consulting about workplace issues and employee challenges. As part of her work life, she was always looking for universal experiences among diverse groups of individuals, and that interest continued in her retirement. She enjoys creating art, experiencing nature, learning about others, and finding new experiences. She finds that writing about aging is energizing and a helpful way to make sense of life's many subtle shifts. Read More
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