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Pedagogical Opportunities in the Expanding Longevity Economy

Janice I. Wassel
Senior Research Scientist & Part-Time Instructor
Western Kentucky University

Dana Burr Bradley
Director, Center for Gerontology & Professor Family and Consumer Sciences
Western Kentucky University

In the 1950s, public service posters hung in the New York City subways reading, “Every day 11,000 babies are born in America. This means new businesses, new jobs, new opportunities” (Jones, 1980). As we all recognize, those babies are now aging and becoming older adults moving into new life course stages with changing tastes and needs. However, the posters’ message remains salient. Recently Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging wrote, “If a group of corporate leaders and investors learned of a transformational business opportunity, we’d expect a stampede to phones and computers as they raced to get in on the action.

Today, we are presented with just such an opportunity: the potential offered by human longevity” (Irving, 2017).

The boomer’s aging in a global context present vast opportunities for innovative individuals who realize aging affects much more than the health care sector. American boomers were the first generation of children to be cultivated as consumers.

This cohort created fads, drove new merchandising to popularize products and stimulated the economy. This new consumerism of children and youth in the 1950s was followed by the baby boomers of other countries fortifying the U.S. economy. Today, we are offered similar opportunities and challenges to provide innovations and perspectives on aging. One of our greatest tasks as gerontological educators is helping professionals, students, and businesses understand their role in providing new products, technologies, and services for the growing older population.

Unknown to many of our colleagues is the enormity of the global 50+ market: The global 50+ aged-market and the Chinese market are about the same size, and the U.S. longevity economy is the 3rd largest world economy.

Given the enormity of possibilities for job, product and service creation in this market, it seems straightforward that businesses, marketers, and entrepreneurs should be targeting new products and services to this global 50+ aged-market of the longevity economy.

Regrettably, old stereotypes perpetuate that being ‘old’ equals ‘poor’ and ‘unable to make new consumer choices independently.’ These ‘new’ older adults are not the same as past generations. In the U.S. those 50+ have money, and they spend it accounting for over half of all expenditures in 2015 or $7.8 trillion, with their spending projected to continue growing (Galloway, 2016). The Boomers and older adults embrace new technology, fashion, foods, cars, entertainment, housing, personal care and more. The old model T of the aging older adult is ‘out,' the new Harley Davidson riding older adult is ‘in.’ Although health care products and services will remain a critical part of the longevity economy, opportunities exist in the remaining 70% of the longevity economy for innovations to attract, embrace, and disrupt the prior constructs of continue reading...