This report looks at our ageing societies and their challenges and opportunities. The media have obsessed about ‘Millennials’ as disruptors, but in fact ageing – which will affect every generation – is having even larger effects. Rising life expectancy and falling birth rates mean populations around the world are getting older. The shift has been gradual, and because humanity is better at spotting immediate change or danger, rather than noticing steady transformation, our shared understanding about what later life is like is woefully out of date. It is portrayed as a ’narrative of decline’ – not a time of opportunity and change.
The advance made in life expectancy is, surely, one of our greatest achievements – but one for which we need to correctly understand the implications. Without this insight, the risk is that the vast potential of all of us in our later lives goes untapped, and a huge swathe of the global population is misunderstood or ignored by policy makers and marketers – especially foolish for the private sector, as over-50s now command nearly half of all spending power in many countries.
People in their later years are increasingly packing their life to the full. For many, their reality doesn’t necessarily align with the labels they’ve been given. They’re not slowing down, but taking on new challenges, roles and responsibilities. Those with money to spend are smart about spending it. They’re not digital natives, but they’re more connected than we give them credit for. They’re not withdrawing from life, but demanding more from it and us.
They’re not wilting in the autumnal years of their life. They’re perennials. And, like their namesake in nature, they are hardy, with the ability to withstand changes to their environment; they adapt, evolve, and grow anew.
Much of the work undertaken by Ipsos Thinks to date has tackled the misperceptions there are about younger people – in particular, the much-maligned Millennials and, next in line, Gen Z. We have tried to shine a light on their beliefs, attitudes and behaviours, and in doing so, have found that, for instance, young people today are much more likely to be ‘mild than wild’, preferring to abstain than turn to drink for a fun night out.
But, of course, it’s not just young people who fall foul of these kinds of misperceptions and, in this publication – in association with our partners at the Centre for Ageing Better – we turn our attention to the other end of the age spectrum in a bid to better understand what it means to be old today. Because for every column inch devoted to deriding a young person for buying avocados with Bitcoin instead of saving for their future, there’s another blaming older people for everything from Trump to Brexit to the housing crisis. And that’s without getting into the associations with old age itself which, in many cultures, is both seen and presented as a problem rather than a privilege. In developing this report, we found modern marketers happy to stick to worn-out stereotypes – one prominent ad man, approached for comment, simply said “Old people? I steer well clear”.
In a publication like this we can’t do justice to the full diversity of experiences in later life. We know that, for some, it is a time of great hardship and that there are very real issues such as poverty, isolation and ill health that need urgent attention. However, what we have tried to do is also highlight another side of later life – the one that we don’t hear about, often because it doesn’t fit with