Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Alessandra Malito, Older Women will Soon Rule the World, MIT Professor Says
In his new book, “The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market,” (published by PublicAffairs) Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the MIT Age Lab, a research program that studies the population 50 and older as well as the technology that impacts their lives, says the narrative on retirement needs a major update. Society puts so much emphasis on the years between birth and 65 years old, but life spans have lengthened over the last century to well into the 80s (and some say citizens of well developed countries can expect to live into the 100s) which means that Americans now may spend a third or more of their lives in retirement.
The catalyst won’t be the engineer or marketing person or someone doing advertisements on Madison Avenue, the future is distinctly female. She lives longer, she is the primary caregiver and the chief consumption officer of the home, so if she doesn’t buy it or envision it, she frankly won’t be living in it and the country and family is missing a big opportunity on what she knows and what she likes and what she will buy. We find the venture capital community ignoring women — we have a vision of innovation as a 27-year-old male wearing sneakers.
MarketWatch: Can you expand on “the future is female” comment? Women haven’t always been considered for such a role — why now?
Coughlin: They weren’t just marginalized — they were invisible. Female consumers today have more education in all fields except engineering, and that’s world wide. That makes her a dedicated researcher. Entrepreneurialism is a new women movement — women have startups employing Americans equal to large corporations. And while she is doing all that, she remains the caregiver, not just to her own children but to her parents. She’s influencing the majority of auto decisions, she understands what the needs and wants are in the population. Women are starting companies about downsizing services to clean up houses and services to provide care in homes — they see the problems and the opportunities.
MarketWatch: You had some tips for businesses looking to invest in the longevity economy — what are some?
Coughlin: With some irony, companies these days are very much liking to advertise that they are consumer-focused. But most companies ignore 51% of the population: the female population. To understand the aging marketplace, they need to look particularly at women 50 and older. The second thing is usable design does not have to be big, beige and boring — transcendent design is not just usable and functional, but genuinely delights the buyer. The third is to create new stories, new rituals, new myths — why don’t we have downsizing parties? Grandparent registries? If you think about it, business and society have all holidays and punctuation marks for 0-65 years old. After that you have a retirement party and everyone else’s parties. For one-third of your life, it’s not about you at all. And the last part is, if we are going to be living longer, we need to rewrite the way we think of retirement. Not just extending work span, but remaining engaged, productive. And frankly, most have a social network where we work, not where we live.