Within a couple of weeks of each other, both my mentee and summer intern, Andrea Hutter, and my mentor Dr. Ed Klugman suggested I read The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market by Joseph F. Couglin, founder and director of the MIT AgeLab.
I picked it up the book on my way to Ohio State University to consult on an intergenerational program – and I couldn’t put it down. In two days, I read it from cover to cover – filling it with highlights, notes in the margins, and dogged-ear pages. Texts went out to my son, who is an economics major, BT’s accountant and friends. Take note – this is a must-read for anyone in business, anyone who works with older adults, or anyone who is aging (which means YOU)!
Some of the major take-aways for me include:
- The very concept of old age is flawed – deeply steeped in need and greed – implying deterioration and inability to be contributing members of society; old people are presented as a problem to be solved.
- We need to create a new “narrative of aging” – a new story of what is and can happen that is steeped in a new reality filled with possibilities and hope, helping people prioritize their goals and aspirations, as well as helping them find new meaning. In fact, research has shown that a positive attitude about aging can increase our life expectancy by 7.5 years and intergenerational engagement can change young people’s attitudes about aging (both short and long term).
- The Frontier of Longevity! I LOVE THIS TERM AND CONCEPT! “A new frontier – and a chance to expand beyond the boundaries of our current, limited set of norms. That frontier is naturally filled with opportunity for business, but it may also prove deadly.” (Especially, he writes, if it leads to war between generations! p. 290) “The greatest achievement human ingenuity has ever given us – will blossom with the sort of cultural signposts that we use to mark meaningful moments, achievement and new directions. As we find ourselves chasing our goals and aspirations in old age, will we find ourselves attending downsizing parties, empty-nest celebrations…” I’m so excited to be part of this frontier and helping people prepare young people to push the boundaries.
- “Transcendent design” which goes beyond universal design and is a design that both works for all and is wanted by all. Think the OXO kitchen utensils developed for arthritic hands and loved by all hands.
- “Vital energy” – a finite amount of energy that people had and when they ran out, they died, or so scientists believed in the 1800s. Interestingly, Dr. KIugman and so many others talk about the transfer of energy as being an important aspect of intergenerational engagement; young people energize older adults. I don’t believe there is a finite amount of vital energy – but I have come to appreciate this concept of vital energy being transferred.
- Retirement which has come to be a combination of two things – scaling back at work and ramping up leisure activities. But when the retirement age was set at 65, life expectancy was 61. Now, that people who turn 65 can live to be almost 83, we need to redefine retirement. I think of the Encore organization which is helping people over 50 “do good for the social good”, specifically their Gen2Gen movement which is focused on helping young people. Encore Boston Network is cosponsoring the Intergenerational Symposium on Sept. 28.
- “Lifestyle leader” – early adopters of a new way of living. I think about all of the “champions” BT collaborates with who appreciate the value of intergenerational engagement and work to promote it – by coordinating programs, volunteering or becoming philanthropists supporting this movement.
- Coughlin raises awareness about age-segregation and cautions against intrinsic bias against young people, especially in some retirement communities. This can lead to children “developing a chip on their shoulder”. May I remind you that these same children will grow up to be hiring managers, community developers and doctors? He writes, “The fact [is] that no community can survive without children… Young people must continue to see their future selves in their present elders, an act of recognition that will soon come under demographic stress”. (p. 150-151) That is another reason that intergenerational engagement is so critical. BT’s award-winning Bridges Program Curricula Suite specifically helps young and old explore aging as a lifelong journey – contributing to the positive development of all people and promoting positive aging (both short and long term).
- Caregiving is a huge issue that effects many generations – and really, most of us directly or indirectly. The approximate value of informal caregiving (by loved ones) is $522 billion per year in the United States. This doesn’t take into effect absenteeism or “presenteeism” – when an employee is present but distracted with caregiving issues.
- The concept of life as four “8,000 day chunks” – from birth to college, college to mid-life, mid-life to retirement and possibly another 8,000 days til death around age of 85. Laura Carstensen’s socioemotional selectivity theory suggests that during “the first half of our lives, we experience the drive to fill our brains and pocketbooks with the knowledge, skills and resources that society makes available. You withdraw from the bank of culture… Then in the second half of life, we get a chance to reinvest in those things. The second 50 years are where you pay it back, you invest in the bank for future generations… You change the culture; you make contributions that make the world a better place.” Carstensen says that in the second half of life, we filter for the positive – in terms of whom we choose to spend time with and how we read a situation. Young people need this positivism and older adults have a need to give back.
His one piece of advice: “Don’t trust your gut!… Far better to hire a guide of some kind, someone who understands the known terrain and can make educated assumptions about the unknown as well.”
In the intergenerational world, that is Bridges Together – sharing the art and science of intergenerational connections!