Unlocking the Economic Opportunity in N.H.'s "Silver Tsunami"
New Hampshire is now tied for the second oldest population in the country and beginning to see the pressure on healthcare, services, and housing caused by the "silver tsunami." In his new book,"The Longevity Economy," author Joseph Coughlin says the future is both older and "technologically-enabled." He makes the case for rethinking aging and retirement not as a burden, but as an economic catalyst that could transform business and society.
This program will be broadcast on-air on Tuesday, April 3, at 9:00 a.m. and 7 p.m. It was originally broadcast on March 15, 2018.
GUEST: Joseph Coughlin, author of "The Longevity Economy: Unlocking The World's Fast-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market." He is the founder and director of the AgeLab at MIT.
This transcript is computer generated, and may contain errors. We encourage you to listen to the full conversation.
[00:00:00] From New Hampshire Public Radio I'm Laura Knoy. And this is the Exchange.
[00:00:14] Greedy and needy. That's the image of older people that our culture often presents in media entertainment advertising. But our guest today says this picture is way off base. We're talking this hour with Joseph Coughlin. He's founder and director of the MIT Age Lab and author of the new book The Longevity economy unlocking the world's fastest growing most misunderstood market. In it Coffin's says businesses nonprofits and governments that cling to the standard mostly negative stereotypes of the elderly do so at their peril. Today in exchange we explore these themes with Joseph Coughlin and let's hear from you. Our email is exchange at 8 PR dot org exchange at an 8 Pragati word you can respond on Facebook or Twitter at an 8 p.m. exchange or give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7 and Joseph Coughlin joins us from MIT. And Joe it's really nice to have you. Thank you very much.
[00:01:11] It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:12] So let's talk about that misrepresentation that you talk about of older people in our society greedy and needy. You write yikes. How so in what ways are older people portrayed as greedy and needy.
[00:01:25] You know for decades we've kind of fostered this image of older folks being greedy and needy and I just think of three images that whether it's fair or not we somehow equate with older adults the blue plate special which is somewhere between punchline and making a point if you will. We often look at entitlements as the fastest growing part of the budget and states and federal government thinking well that's only for those older people which of course it's not. And then of course the discounts whether it's the Matinee discount or something of a store discount.
[00:01:58] So we have defined this population as being needy and being greedy about the things that they want. And in fairness many of these so-called discounts and entitlements and indeed the blue plate specials were created at a time when the older adult was the poorest and the most alone. And indeed the most needy.
[00:02:19] But of course that was before 1964 and things have changed quite a bit.
[00:02:23] So older people are not as needy as they used to be economically. And what about health wise you know sort of needing assistance. There's that stereotype too there that if you're older you know the stereotype of helping the little old lady across the street. Sure.
[00:02:39] Absolutely. And you know there's a fine line between just showing plain respect and courtesy as well as the notion that one is always need to know. Certainly there are those who are economically not well-off particularly in certain areas of the city or in rural areas but also when you speak about health you don't want you to think about the following. There's a difference between ill and sick.
[00:03:04] Most of us believe it or not are ill. We have a chronic condition Asthma Allergy high blood pressure diabetes. But that doesn't mean it's not managed well enough so that you're not sick but you're typically ill which means you can know walk the dog. Do your garden work part time volunteer with verve. And so yeah illness is certainly something that correlates with old age but old age does not necessarily mean you're sick.
[00:03:32] You say Joe that this false depiction this needy greedy picture of senior citizens is not only wrong but it's dangerous you say. And when I read that I thought OK hurtful may be off base maybe but dangerous in what way.
[00:03:47] Well let's take it from a societal level. First the first danger is imagine this the fastest growing part of not just the United States population but in round the world are people over age 50. By 2047 there will be more people over the age of 60 worldwide than kids under 15. And we're already seeing that here in the United States and Canada. And as you know New Hampshire being the second highest concentration of older adults in this part of its population. So here's the thing. The danger part is if we take this fastest growing amazing part of the population one in five adults in the next couple of years and we say that they are going to be cordoned off as this needy greedy not productive part of society. Well let's put it this way. If you do that with 20 percent of the older population and we basically argue the same for kids from zero to 18 zero to 20 essentially. As a society we've basically put 40 percent of the folks off the grid. That's just on a societal level but on the individual level you know people have to have a reason to get up in the morning. They have to have a sense of purpose and engagement. And we must engage these folks not just for societal good but to keep them engaged in society so that they're healthy they're well and certainly not a cost. And frankly they're Pardos for individuals.
[00:05:10] Geez if we define people as only being needy greedy and sick it kind of things are we going to vote for them that are going to excite and delight them across the lifespan.
[00:05:18] Well that gets to the product development and some of the cringe worthy products that businesses have created because they have this impression but I'm really interested in what you just said Joe you know we've got this large and growing group of older folks. You know what does that mean for our future if we put them off the grid. What does that mean exactly. Putting them off the grid. How do we do that now.
[00:05:43] Well as I like to say in my book The Longevity economy old age is made up and many people get to say you think so a guy my arthritis or whatever is just made up.
[00:05:55] And we should not equate stiffness and aches and pains and needing our shots and whatever with old age the old age that we have made up in society is basically something that's only 100 150 years old in terms of what we mean by retirement. Now we had this idea that I write about called vital energy and the idea was that you were given from Divine Province just a certain amount of energy in life and depending on how well you used it or if you used it badly and you can use your imagination what that means you were going to age quickly and frankly you'd be caput. That's it. And so as a result we invented things like rest homes and then we know nursing homes and most of us know mine also know of a certain age the next home that comes after that is the funeral home. And so we made old age into always being a negative if you will. And as a result we now look at it as not as an opportunity which longevity is but we look at it as a cost.
[00:07:01] Well black balloons for certain birthdays and cards that say you're over the hill. In other words it's all downhill from here. But where does this come from Joe.
[00:07:13] You know it's interesting is that we greatly underestimate the power of story the power of narrative that guides our lives and the narrative of old age in many ways was written so that in a time when we were doing factories where we changed people out the way we changed equipment or we needed lots of young people to provide the labor for a farm.
[00:07:40] The idea was to create this narrative where there was a natural time for you to essentially get off the grid to get out of the way. For those younger people that were auguring for your job or we needed young able bodies to have a productive factory since we were running society the way we would run a mill. Well the problem is that A we have a lot more older people but secondly work isn't that way anymore and society has changed dramatically. We're quite often what you do with your hands is done by machine or what you do and knowing your mind is of greater value than how much weight you can lift. And the narrative was created so that we could keep young able people employed in factories productive and frankly just keeping people moving along the life course. So the that ideology.
[00:08:30] Yeah yeah. So keep it moving now. Today we here in New Hampshire. I mean every week somebody comes into my studio and says workforce we need people and maybe we'll talk a little bit later jail about keeping older workers on the job to satisfy some of those workforce times but it perpetuates this story today. I mean you're describing an economy of you know 50 60 70 years ago. But the mythology is still with us. So who is keeping that mythology alive.
[00:09:00] Well if you think about it it's all baked in. So I'll give you a couple points. The first thing is that our public policies have baked in as well in terms of looking at pensions and the narrative of retirement. So when I say baked in people naturally look at 65 as that's the retirement age. Now some of us are 67 almost 62 but 65 seems to be showy say the golden year for retirement and why you know life expectancy now has the fastest growing part of the population not just being 50 plus but 85 plus. So why 65. Why not 60 why not 75. The fact is it was made up so our pensions are retirements. Our companies have made that somehow to be old age when by the way most people define old age as 20 years older than whoever's answering the question is it just as a side point but also companies that have really done everything they could for the baby boom generation those folks born between 1946 and 64 have gotten so focused and so successful and indeed so profitable focusing in on the youth.
[00:10:07] Well now the baby boomers are shall we say reaping what they have sown which is that we taught business so well focus on the 18 to 30 18 to 35. Now that most of the baby boomers are well twice that age. They're finding themselves shall we say being ignored. So it's baked in by business. And then finally those of us as individuals these narratives guide our life stage. We have a natural sense as to what we should be doing at a certain age you know. What do you want to be when you grow up or act your age. Well we actually step up to the narrative that's around us and unfortunately many of us believe that 65 is the time to take a sidestep or to walk the beach. What we forget is that we've got about 20 plus years for most of us over 65 walking the beach. That's a lot of walking.
[00:10:54] Well and in the book you talk about a group of healthy older successful wealthy retired CEOs who are just basically hitting golf balls all day long and their wives you know commentary their hair out thing isn't there more than this.
[00:11:12] It was. I have to say it was somewhat surreal. I mean for those and I may not ever be allowed into Naples again.
[00:11:19] Naples Florida is known to have the highest concentration of retired CEOs in the country and I went there with a full expectation that look these guys have health they have wealth.
[00:11:30] They have wives typically if you will 15 20 years younger than they are and when you went to go see these folks it looked like you were going to a used Maserati car lot. So they shall we say by many popular definitions had it all. And as you point out as I write in the book had nothing. They showed up every day at the driving range which might be fun for a while and then they would go from there to the club and beat the ball for 18 holes and then have a liquid lunch or darn close to it and then quite often when you ask their wives and so you do this maybe once or twice a week. Oh no the boys are here every day. And so just for fun I did the calculations that if you golf between 65 and say about 82 and you take about a month off and you give about two weeks for being sick and you take all the federal holidays off do you know that's 3000 rounds of golf. And so think think so if they don't have a narrative they don't have a dream of what to do with 20 percent or frankly one third of your adult life. How about the rest of us.
[00:12:33] Well so they're off the grid. Those guys are off the grid. And you're suggesting that that they could be doing more. Is it clear that they want to be doing more. Well maybe they want to play golf.
[00:12:46] You know. Exactly. And maybe I'm just a little jealous because the way I play golf is more like a sentence than a word.
[00:12:53] But then there's a couple little anecdotes. One of them of course they want to play golf but largely a lot of us do and I know a lot of people going to push back on this. Do what we were told by common narrative movies magazines retailers and what to wear what to do. But one of the things that was really telling is that these folks were complaining about the fact that they had retired from a world where the world came to them people wanted their opinion they wanted their input. People brief them on what was hot and what was not. And now as I said the best they could get was to get the local newspaper or to go online for a you know what was hot in the media that they were now not just off the grid in terms of their own engagement and productivity but the world sequestered them off and if you think about some of the most prestigious high end 50 plus communities they're gated they're not just keeping things out they're also keeping people in. So I'm not suggesting that after a certain age you must continue work. But I am suggesting that the new longevity economy we must now create new narrative where we must be doing something and pull people back onto the grid in ways that they choose.
[00:14:09] But that makes them happy productive healthier really healthier.
[00:14:14] Absolutely. Not just having a reason to get up in the morning but. And I guess this is an old freeze it's been around but it was new to me a couple of years ago which is particularly the highest divorce rate in the country is amongst the 50 plus and women would repeatedly tell me that the reason why they were asking for the divorce. Majority of them were women asking for the divorce was I don't know who this man is that is now sitting on my couch. I married him for life not for lunch ideas. And so a lot a lot of men and in other interviews I was doing actually went back to work not for the money but simply to get out of the House as one guy said to me. Otherwise she was going to kill me.
[00:14:54] Well let's invite our listeners to join us and then we have so much to talk about Joe the number for you to be with us this morning is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Send us an e-mail if you'd like exchange at NIH PR dot org. Again exchange at NIH PR dot org. Our guest today is Joseph Coughlin founder and director of the MIT Age Lab and author of the brand new book The Longevity economy. Inside the world's fastest growing most mis understood market what do you think is mis understood about older people in our society. Do you agree with Joe or not that older people are put off the grid not allowed to participate as fully as they might like. And Joe let's go to our listeners and joining us from Manchester is Dave. Hi Dave. Go ahead. Morning.
[00:15:49] Morning go ahead. I find it fascinating that you know the most selfish generation that ever was Baby Boomers is here complaining about their being treated in their older years the same way they treat their parents. At the same time if you're worried about job economic security of vital lifestyle you're complaining about golfing instead of working what you've left behind an economy that no young people are ever going to have the economic opportunities that that generation did not. This next generation generations I'm 50 years old. So I'm not whining.
[00:16:28] But I think it's really ironic that you want to shift the conversation nothing but the future generations are never going to be able to retire 65. It's really interesting that these are the complaints coming up. Thank you.
[00:16:40] Well day I'm glad you called and you know let's cover that. That issue Joe. You know baby boomers known as being selfish and maybe you should be complaining now. What do you think.
[00:16:51] Yeah you know and thank you for the comments because those are good takeoff points. Look I'm at the tail end of the baby boomers so I am part of the one time largest but certainly indeed the loudest if not most obnoxious generation in history. So
[00:17:04] I will take credit for that. But you know the fact of the matter is is that as the great prophet Jimmy Buffett once said We are the people your parents warned you about. And so when I was talking to the folks down there in Naples they were golfing and the like. I looked to them shall we say is these are the folks who had it all. And if they can't figure it out then what is what is for the rest of us. And I guess I want to take you up on the point about sustaining you know what we're going to leave behind and no other generation is going to be able to retire at 65. Is it possible that as much as the baby boomers have got shall we say Macbeth bloodstains on their hands. Is it possible that the economy and society has structurally changed based upon how long we were living how new technology is happening how jobs that never existed only five years ago. Now are the fastest growing jobs are not just about the baby boomers but have structurally started to leave others behind the millennials Gen-X and the like.
[00:18:02] And by the way being able to retire at 65. Again that is made up. There's no reason that any weather and whether it's the baby boomers the Millennials or Generation Z who's already coming on line should anticipate 65 is some sort of preordained right nor necessarily reality.
[00:18:21] Well Dave thank you for the call and you're listening to the exchange on NHP. You know Joe you write that it's been clear for a long time a long time that we were going to have this aging baby boom generation. I'm glad Dave brought up that point. We all knew it was coming. And yet you write companies nonprofits governments are not getting ready. Pretty stunning. Why aren't they getting ready.
[00:18:44] You know all organizations and frankly individuals if you just look at the way we plan for retirement we know that eventually with any luck we're going to get older because shall we say the alternative is not nearly as pretty. So whether it's individuals or institutions we don't look decades ahead.
[00:19:01] And unlike economics where we spent a lot of money forecasting what the future's going to be which is somewhere between witchcraft and mathematics or technology forecasting which is one part hope one part engineering demography is destiny. And the trouble is institutions and individuals don't like to look decades ahead they look at the next quarterly report or the next election. So our vision tends to be in two four year increments if it's government unfortunately and for businesses it's the next quarterly report or annual report. So yes the boomers have been coming and coming and coming well my God they're all starting to leave as well. And so it's not just about the boomers but you know the millennials are behind them Gen X that poor group of folks born tween 64 and 79. You know they're getting ignore they're smaller but they're also in their 40s and 50s and saying hey what about us. No we we are very short sighted both as a society but not just the United States around the world as well.
[00:19:58] It's kind of stunning when you think about it because you're right if a huge group of people is born you know at a certain time minus a plague. Most of them will be around 20 30 40 years from now. I was just so struck by that it just seems so and think of the things that we change.
[00:20:15] I mean look around the streets of New Hampshire in New England in general. The schools that were built in the 60s because the boomers were coming the shopping malls and strip malls that were built because the boomers are shopping the new houses that went in place in the 50s and 60s not just for the World War II postwar G.I. Isaac came home but for the three point nine children that the the World War II generation mother had on average what makes us believe that the infrastructure is not going to have to change as radically for an aging generation. But more importantly than the numbers of the next aging generation. Here's the new generation gap expectations because you now have a generation. And by the way the boomers started this but they taught their children well that they no only expect to live longer. They demand to live better. So they're not just going to simply be nearly as polite as their parents and wait on the front porch for the kids to visit. They're not going to wait for the van that they had to book a week in advance to go get a haircut or an ice cream cone. They're not going to accept that Wi-Fi is not part of Maslow's pyramid. And it had better be on a right live. This is a generation that will demand more and expects more.
[00:21:31] Well it's interesting and we did a whole mini series recently on New Hampshire's retail and housing infrastructure highlighting exactly what you say Joe that you know our housing infrastructure is kind of like that pair of pants that used to fit 15 years ago and all the sudden it doesn't. Same thing what do we do with these shopping malls that nobody seems to be going to anymore so it's interesting to hear you say that and it reminds me of something else that you write in the book. You kind of got into this field looking at transportation infrastructure.
[00:21:59] So tell us a little bit about that entry into this field of aging and and what older people need to ask you to tell us about that. On the other side of the break. Jill I apologize but let me tell you we'll talk about that. Also I want to ask you about some of the dire messaging we hear here in New Hampshire because as you mentioned where the nation's second oldest state in terms of median age so all that's coming up. And stay with us we'll keep taking your e-mails and calls. This is the exchange and it's PR.
[00:23:30] This is the exchange I'm Laura Knoy today. Why. Our guest says American businesses governments and nonprofits are pretty clueless about aging and that these stereotypes of elderly people he says aren't just off base. They're dangerous. We're talking with Joseph Coughlin founder and director of the MIT Age Lab and author of the new book The Longevity economy. Now exchange listeners what do you think what images of older people do you see around you. What's the broader narrative that you hear about older folks and our aging society. Again you can join us by e-mail exchange at NHP dot org exchange at NHP dorg or of course give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. And Joe a couple of e-mails and calls but I did want to ask you about this broader narrative that we hear here in New Hampshire. Dire messages for the last decade or so at least that the second oldest state in terms of median age that this is going to be terrible that we won't have enough young people to get our economy going to keep all our healthcare sector viable to take care of us all us old folks. The implication is how do you interpret this.
[00:24:43] You know I would say that the longevity economy the the growth of an aging population and by the way the reduced fertility that is that you know you need two point one kids per mom just to keep a population even essentially as education income goes up.
[00:25:00] That's the best form of birth control because apparently as that goes up fertility now is down to one point nine or thereabouts for most of the United States so it's not just about aging it's about there are fewer children as well. And so this has given rise to an entire business of demography dooms-daying that these disruptive demographics are going to run us broke. They're going to break pension funds and health care is going to be busted and you know something if we do absolutely nothing. They're probably right. But here's what I want to say to New Hampshire. The United States and every country around the world particularly the industrialized world that's aging. If we change the narrative if we start thinking about a new population that by the way has the highest concentration of wealth in the world to create new products and services that excite and delight that will be a new income. If we change the narrative that yes retirement is something you can look forward to but maybe it's not a birthday in a month that you say OK I go full ahead. Stop. Maybe it's transition maybe you work longer to make sure that your wealth span and your lifespan go together maybe we continue volunteering well into older age that we continue to contribute if we change the story the most powerful technology in the world is the story we don't have to have. What I like to call that Malthusian logic if I remember Thomas Malthus 220 years ago said we were all going to starve because the population was growing remember.
[00:26:25] Now the Malthusian ends are back because we'd have achieved the greatest achievement I think in humankind longer life. There are now out there slitting their wrists.
[00:26:35] So the folks who predict doomsday you know both in terms of bankrupting our finances at the state and federal level and in terms of you know economic doomsday that just won't be enough active productive people. They are right. If we continue with this narrative.
[00:26:52] Absolutely. And they're also assuming the same way Malthus did. That technology won't change that we won't be able to work longer.
[00:27:00] But yes there are robotics and robotics that will not just take jobs they will actually keep you working that we will continue to learn so that we can make the business case to be in the workplace and that frankly people start to realize that she's you know 20 30 years maybe for some 30 plus years of retirement. She's more of a sentence than it is a reward.
[00:27:19] So don't think about retirement. As you know 65 boom you're gone. Thank you very much. More of a gradual sliding scale and that changes the finances and the economics of it doesn't it.
[00:27:30] Absolutely and just to just do some very simple geeky math after you know after all I am sitting here at MIT but basic arithmetic from zero to 21 years old brings drinking age is 8000 days from twenty one to what most of us would call midlife crisis kind of late 40 ish 8000 days and from men to 65 8000 days. But get this if you live here over 85 that's a thousand days. It's a full life stage not a period.
[00:28:01] Well and speaking of you know putting people off the grid not utilizing them fully and the impacts again we can avoid some of these worst case scenarios. If we rethink our narrative I've got two e-mails picking up on what you are saying about this here's Kim in New London. I could give you the names of ten highly qualified energetic experienced women over 60. I spoke with one yesterday Kim says who were laid off from their management position who could not get as Kim says they have so much to offer and get lots of interviews and never get the job. Often they are told they are overqualified. What do you think about that.
[00:28:40] No absolutely. We have a is it is the pervasiveness of the story that we have around old age and it's on both sides if you will of the ledger it's on the individual as much as it is on the employer. The employer looks at a person with a sounds like a developed experienced resume and say gee they would never work here or I can't afford them right.
[00:29:04] They can't make that assumption. So many of us want to go back to work simply to remain busy or to remain purposeful or as I said to have a reason to get up in the morning and see new people. I mean think of the number of people who have joined the sharing economy as share as Uber and Lyft drivers and the like that used to go by the name executive vice president. They just want to get out. It's not about the income itself and on the flip side as individuals we now have to realize that if we're going to be working longer we didn't say we're gonna be working longer in the same job. So that means we may be the new kid in the recruitment program going through shall we say the the recruitment program that 20 something year olds are going for and getting paid as a new employee overall. So we need a real adjustment as to our expectations as employees but employers not just because it's the law not discriminate. They need to realize what they're recruiting is talent not birthdays.
[00:30:02] Well and on this theme of the dangers of putting older people off the grid disconnecting them a really compelling e-mail just came in from Bill Joy I want to share it with you. He says My father became more and more afraid as he got older he definitely felt left out and put upon. And all of this was fanned by how he filled his free time listening to talk radio and watching TV news. Bill says his sense of being disconnected combined with his fear of being taken advantage of made him a target for scams before we found out what he had been doing. He had squandered the vast majority of his savings to scammers promising to bring him to D.C. to testify in front of Congress about his plight or to help them crusade against the concerted efforts of liberals to turn our country into a socialist dictatorship. Wow Bill what a story. So when I asked you earlier Joe you know what's the danger of people being disconnected or are put off the grid. There's a big story right there.
[00:31:02] First off there's a special circle of hell for those who prey on the most vulnerable and certainly elderly. So we'll just put that aside. But you know one of the things that we have to worry about when we do both is in terms of story and physically and business wise put people off the grid as we age.
[00:31:21] Unfortunately our world becomes more compressed as one woman said to me in an interview at my age and she was in her 80s. There's a natural attrition to friendship and that is that your friends start to either move or become ill or and for sure easily pass away. If you're not working think about the majority of your social network is not at home.
[00:31:41] It is not your next door neighbor but the people that you spend anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day with that works when you leave work. It's less about your income than it is about shall we say your social network. So yes the media if that's all you hear but you don't get out to experience more in the world your world view becomes narrower. So yes you become more vulnerable. But also we as a society we as family members lost the resource the warmth and the engagement of that person by allowing them to be on the couch by themselves only with media 30 at their feet.
[00:32:16] Bill thank you so much for that email again. And Neal is in Plymouth Hi Neal you're on the exchange. Thanks for being with us.
[00:32:36] Good morning. Morning. Yeah I just wanted to tell you that I'm a person that grew up with you know John Kennedy really impressed me a lot. And I I'm 68 years old and I'm not taking my Social Security I'm still working there. I plan to keep working as long as I can physically work. I've I've got over 40 years of public service. I served in the legislature to serve my community and serve in my church. And I feel that the older people have so much to offer the leadership experience and knowledge are already working and education shouldn't be you know put away set aside do you want to keep working on it.
[00:33:35] Yeah the leadership Yeah.
[00:33:38] All right well thank you very much for calling in. And you know he's reciting a lot of themes you have in your book.
[00:33:42] JOE Yeah absolutely. I mean new brings up something the last phrase you mentioned it was knowledge. You know there is this also part of the old age myth and story is that there's this nice straight linear line if you will of people just waiting to take your job. So please retire at 65 and get out of the way and let these younger people who need to get started with life and families in the right to take their job. That is true for some professions. But would new was talking about is also very important is that in certain professions. Let me give an example in energy the average age of the energy and electrical workers in their 50s the average aerospace engineer in their 50s truck drivers were there has always been a shortage. Average age 56 and for those of us who come from farming regions the average American farmer today is 61. So two things are happening. One there is no long line of younger people who want a lot of the jobs that people are saying please get out of the way. But to Neel's police when these people retire or are marginalized and moved out and given the euphemistic baggage they take with them not just their cost not just their labor but lost knowledge they take with them the very knowledge that that business or that enterprise knows about what it does why it did what it does and how to fix and create relationships and the like with them as well. This is a valuable asset that we are exiting out the door because of an old story of old age.
[00:35:13] Although to hear you talk you know in those numbers I've heard before you know the average age of a doctor is 53 the average age of a nurse is 50. The truck driver you know when you hear that a part of me thinks OK maybe those people who say that this demographic wave is going to crash on the sand. Right. I mean eventually those folks are going to retire or die. So then what. There's nobody behind them.
[00:35:36] It's not good. Yeah it's going to be a challenge. I mean I try to make a joke out of it because frankly you know laughing is a lot better than than crime.
[00:35:45] But you know think about it with that average doctor being 53. Just when we need them most they're going to want to retire to. But you know that that's where technology plays a role. So if you're an example I've got my family from very far upstate New York as in on the Canadian border part of upstate New York. Some of them are receiving Parkinson's therapy and treatment from Johns Hopkins and University of Rochester via telemedicine. So if the doctor is in the neighborhood the doctor may still be there to give you the therapy give you the check up on the line. So there are going to be ways to leverage the talent and the knowledge we need. But we have to start today to build that infrastructure that expectation and the business models to deliver it well.
[00:36:26] And this gets to one of the innovations that you write about in the book really really quickly Joe because we're heading into a break. The exoskeleton helps older workers stay on the job longer.
[00:36:37] Yeah I know. It's really robotics and artificial intelligence is getting a bad rap it's all about how the robots are coming for you and they're coming for your jobs well EXO skeletal or robotic suits that one may wear will make it possible for us to work longer on the job. We're seeing the auto industry particularly in Europe with Daimler and BMW enabling 50 plus year olds not just to stay on the job but to reduce their injury so that the skills that they've built up over decades and the quality of what they know a car should look like and be built like stays on the job. They stay paid and the technology is actually a job keeper rather than a job taker.
[00:37:14] You're listening to the exchange on an so Joe here's an email from Jim that came in Jim in Bedford he says I'm in the 65 plus group no longer getting paid for what I do. But it's not golf volunteering for my professional society teaching and taking classes traveling things to the grandchildren before they are fully launched Jim says. I pity the Naples refugees. They let money final Naples refugees right. They let money define them in mid-life and have lost definition. Now retirement and employment are both modern myths that will need to be rewritten as jobs get out automated out of existence and life is transformed. Technology Jim says off to class. Jim I hope you're still listening. What do you think about his comments Joe.
[00:38:00] I think Jim is edging in on my gig. It's a it's a he makes a great conversation. And by the way we haven't talked about retirement in terms of retirement planning but Jim is emblematic of the way we should be thinking about retirement. It is not simply and God knows it's not simple but it is not simply about having enough money and enough income similar to what Jim was saying.
[00:38:25] We now have to be rigorous and work hard in retirement to stay engaged to find those things that excite is those things that keep us productive and it doesn't mean that you're working for pay. It can be volunteering with verve it can be maintaining connections the community. And by the way who said education is only for those between 0 and 21 years old. It's for a lifetime. So yeah no I think Jim is not only a great example but it's a new way we should be thinking about retirement. Do you have your money is only a one part and a necessary part. But do you have a wife especially for eight thousand days. That's a bigger part.
[00:39:03] Well and you talked earlier Joe about the idea of retirement maybe to avoid some of this economic calamity and demographic calamity and so forth. Maybe we shouldn't think about it as you know 65. Thank you very much. But it's more of a gradual process a process where you're sharing knowledge with younger workers. We had a demographer on the show Monday Peter Franciso who's written a ton on New Hampshire as an older state. He calls it the unbalanced human ecology of our state and I'm quoting from him here he says our state's capacity for economic as well as social rejuvenation and vitality is at risk. Why do you think how much should New Hampshire worry about this.
[00:39:45] I think New Hampshire is is going to be or is rather a living laboratory particularly for smaller urban areas and rural America in general. And I don't think that it is predestined to be a crisis if we act today. You know we have to start thinking about how social institutions have changed the very nature of social capital. Many of us have dropped out of churches and faith based organizations of any creed if you will. And that used to be shall we say the very glue for many communities Rotary Kohana is moose and elks and the like are now trying desperately to keep members let alone get new members. So one of the things that we need to think about is not just the infrastructure of aging but how do we rebuild the social capital to have those connections in small towns in rural America that in many ways made aging better and healthier. On a farm 40 acres from your closest neighbor because you are connected in other ways than those who celebrate living in a city right down. You know right down the hall from somebody they probably never knew.
[00:40:50] Well it's interesting you talk about social capital and of course we talk with Robert Putnam and the whole idea of Bowling Alone and social capital and you do say in the book that this disconnect that older folks used to face wasn't as severe you know a generation or two ago because people did participate in church you know bowling leagues Elks Club and so forth. So it's almost a little worse now.
[00:41:13] Yeah I think one of the other parts of the old age is a myth is is that we think of retirement as a time to relax a time to pull back. Actually retirements a lot of work. And what I mean by that is that combined with divorce rates fewer children are children that when you were in youth you said to your kids that if they don't want to live wherever you are feel free to move and they did. So our families are smaller our institutions are smaller.
[00:41:38] We've got to work harder at making those connections more on the longevity economy in just a moment and we'll take a bunch more of your e-mails and calls. So keep it right here. And.
[00:42:30] This is the exchange I'm Laura convoy today the founder and director of MIT's Age Lab Joseph Kaufman is with us talking about his new book The Longevity economy. Some of the narratives and myths we have around aging and how he says those need to change to avoid some of the dire predictions we hear about our aging society. Join us with your comments and questions and your suggestions. 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Send us an email exchange it and PR dot org or Sponheim Facebook or Twitter or if you'd like it's NHP exchange and wow Joe two e-mails have just come in and I want to share both of them with you because they take opposite views of some of the themes that you're talking about. Jonny's says call this show the baby boomer whining our self concerned aging boomers whine about their place in society instead of the generations they left behind with no careers no futures opioids flooding the market to replace the life of meaning that this greedy generation left behind. Johnny says the World War II generation left a promising society behind the Boomers gutted it and are now crying on their way to the grave. Johnny thank you. And he's echoing some of the themes that David Manchester brought up and then counter to Johnny and Dave though. Here's Ellis as a 66 year old Boomer I'm surprised at this opinion that we are greedy.
[00:43:52] I see my generation as the group who stopped excuse me who stood up to stop the Vietnam War clean up our air and water make progress in civil rights and voting rights improve women's rights and financial status increase access to better and higher education protect public lands and so much more. Ellis says many of us work for nonprofits government advocacy groups union jobs willing to work for a better world at lower wage that could have been made in for profit companies. Now for many of us promises of pensions and health care have been overturned so Ellis Johnny thank you so much. And wow Joe Zhao.
[00:44:30] I have only been around for 50 plus years I didn't realize I did so much damage and so much better of it.
[00:44:37] Like well you know exactly.
[00:44:39] I mean one of the things I always get a chuckle out of is that we would like to talk about how younger generations are more environmentally conscious Well you know that is true currently but the Earth Day movement was not created in the last couple of years the sustainability is a value is not new in technology development. If you look at who brought the Internet to life it was not necessarily of recent note so to speak. But that said yeah the boomers have definitely got as I said Macbeth's blood on their hands if you will but the context of life has fundamentally changed and that is not just about the boomers. Technology is change economics of change world powers of change where they sit. Making how we are aging and living very differently. But here's one thing I want to pick up on. More than anything else I'm not gonna allocate blame. I don't really know blame is not very useful. But one thing that we have to stop doing is about that generation versus this generation because with any luck all the generations that are younger than the boomers will get to be older and the responsibility now. I believe for the baby boomers if they want to leave a legacy is to invent a new old age that Gen-X Millennials and Gen Z and whatever the alphabet soup is that we call after those kids become older that they get to live longer and they get to live better. It's not about us and them. It's about all of us.
[00:45:59] Well I want to thank both of those gentlemen for the e-mails and let's talk about some of the companies that are starting to do what you talk about make old age better make it more connected make it not about being off the grid. There's a lot of companies in your book though that showed a general cluelessness about this who is sort of getting it right. What sorts of companies are saying yeah I understand that older people are not just slow stupid sick needy greedy.
[00:46:31] Yeah I mean we'll talk about a couple of them. Some of them you may be surprised.
[00:46:36] And by the way I do warn you a lot of them tend to be premium Protic and that's a whole other issue we can discuss.
[00:46:44] And what I mean by premium product is the interest premium price but the values that go into exciting and delighting the older consumer are products that frankly Klees across the generations by no means do I want anyone to think my book The Longevity economy is about creating products services and experiences it's exclusively for older adults.
[00:47:05] Rather we need to be thinking about products services and experiences excite delight that are easy that focus on personal performance personalization that make health and well-being a new premium. And if you think about those values all across generations they make life better. No one ever is upset about something it's too safe too easy or too much fun. So think of a BMW over the years has changed its design if you will to be far more intuitive far easier. Why. Well frankly the premium BMW client is in their 50s. How about Apple. And these days you can have a presentation without what I call the triple of the apple the Amazon and artificial intelligence as some sort of discussion. But Apple if you think about the tablet or the iPad you know I can take my glasses off crank up the font with my two fingers and suddenly I'm still kind of cool having this technology but I'm not looking at something that says Old Man's tablet either. And then probably the last one that is something that for those of us who love to cook. OXO Good Grips. I talk about in the book you know this was a device for potato peelers in the light that was designed by a gentleman when he was watching his wife with arthritic hands have difficulty manipulating Kitchell kitchen tools. Lo and behold these larger easy to grip handles now have become the new prestige item in the kitchen. And so whether it's ways we can personalize better design were things that just make life easier. These are the things that will make older age better.
[00:48:35] But guess what makes it better for everyone at any age.
[00:48:38] Well another one of the services that you mentioned I think you say was invented by or created by a young guy living in a New York City some big urban area and it was the idea of a was it either grocery delivery or these services like Blue Apron where they deliver all the ingredients you know and you said this guy invented it because he was just too busy. He was you know running around he had a busy career and he never had time to do the grocery store but he never had anything in his fridge. So what did he do. Because this really applies to younger and older as well.
[00:49:10] So here's where I will have a little bit of fun at my generation's expense and kick the baby boomers who seem to enjoy kicking the millennials as a part time sport as every generation takes their turn. But you know this lifestyle that we credit the millennials with having which was home delivery of food or hailing or car rather than owning a car or sharing tools rather than buying tools guess what. These very services that make life easy and seamless that we think are being developed for lazy maybe more affluent kids. Guess what those kids are creating a virtual assisted living that will make it possible for many of us to stay in our homes stay safely mobile and actually stay safely connected and frankly well-fed. I mean the new meals on wheels may look a lot more like Blue Apron by drone than frankly any way we've ever seen in the past.
[00:50:02] Well and services like Uber or Lyft. I mean in places like New Hampshire there's not public transportation. Older folk sometimes can't drive or don't want to drive. And you know you talk about how you got into this whole field by looking at the lack of transportation for older folks. And here are millennials inventing something that will help everybody.
[00:50:22] Absolutely. I mean transportation is my first love and started here at the Center for Transportation Logistics where the Age Lab is located. But I want you to imagine this. New Hampshire is not alone 70 percent 7 0 of the 50 plus in America live in suburban and rural areas where there is either no transit or poorly serving transit and the rides that we often provide to people you have to book 24 hours in advance seven days in advance and that's great if you want to go to the grocery store or to the doctor's office. But that's mobility triage. Life is not about going to the doctor and the grocery store. It's about the little things like visiting the friend at a drop of a hat or my favorite example when you won an ice cream cone on a hot summer night. It's July. Here are the peepers. You want a soft serve and you want it now. Do you live in a place that has access to that and the mobility to get you there when you want it. The little things that make you smile is what are little things that will make old age living longer better.
[00:51:20] And it isn't just you know OK c'mon Joe you can go to your freezer and get a popsicle. I mean it's the idea that it brings that little bit of happiness and that little bit of happiness has long range repercussions for you.
[00:51:34] Absolutely. And frankly and I've spent time in New Hampshire where. It's like going to ice cream places or even frankly the bar in Plymouth and places like that that have those chance collisions if you will with people that just to say hi or smile or to meet a friend. It's not about the ice cream cone. It says Jerry Seinfeld said about coffee. When did coffee become a thing rather than a drink. It is now an activity.
[00:52:00] This is the exchange on NHP so one of the funniest parts about your book though is the product makers often in the tech sector who've just completely gotten it wrong created terrible products with old folks in mind. Just give me some of your favorite examples from that sort of hall of shame.
[00:52:22] Well there's one essentially techie but it gives you an idea that the ketchup folks came up with senior foods.
[00:52:31] And I want you to imagine this. It was baby food quite literally informed by the development of baby food. But with the vision and here's where that story comes in the story that older folks apparently don't care about taste and none of us have our teeth and frankly we just just need nutrition and so they created a whole brand of food called senior foods that was mushy poorly colored god awful tasting food product that even babies wouldn't eat. And needless to say that that crashed and burned. But to your point about the tech sector you know we we look for great innovations coming out of Silicon Valley or even right here my backyard here at Kendall Square and for better or for worse. Most of those businesses are 20 as I'd like to frame them. 27 year old guys wearing sneakers and hoodies programming. And so their vision of old age is either a parent or a grandparent and without fail it's always about an old age. The most important thing is to make sure that I remind you to take your medications so pill reminders galore is what the tech sector seems to think about old age.
[00:53:42] Well and it's interesting too there's a demographic disconnect that you write about that a lot of the new products are created by young guys whereas the biggest consumers these days are older women. So I mean talk about different. Yeah.
[00:53:55] No indeed I am one of my favorite chapters in the book is the future is female and I think my wife tries to make sure I remind remind me of my own research.
[00:54:04] Over and over as do my two daughters by one should imagine this the future is female not just because she tends to live longer. That's part of it. But frankly the women are the chief consumer officer of the house even if she's not an income generator in the house she's the one who knows how the dollars are spent 80 cents and 90 cents on the dollar of all healthcare decisions influencing 80 percent of all car decisions home modification and the like. She particularly a 47 a 57 year old is far more likely to provide care to an older adult have a husband who can't make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and has been identified by others as being the best friend of an adult millennial child. So she's actually influencing three different houses. So here's the challenge we have are we are ignoring women when in fact they are the lead adopters of a new lifestyle. They're living longer. They're making the consumer decisions and they're the ones who are going to have to implement it. Indeed she is the future and she should be looked at as the guide for what life tomorrow will be.
[00:55:10] Well and speaking of products and being a woman of a certain age myself here's my last question for you. Joe you ready. Has somebody made a pickle jar that I can open Alpha if you find one that drives me crazy. There's been so much more that we could have talked about. Joe this has been really fun. Thank you so much for being with us today. Appreciate it. It's been great Laura thank you. That's Joe Coughlin founder and director of the MIT Age Lab. His new book is called the longevity economy unlocking the world's fastest growing most misunderstood market. The exchange is a production of NHP are the engineers Dan Colgan or senior producer Zelon. Our producers are Jessica Hunt and Christina Phillips a theme music was composed by Bob Lord and I'm Laura Knoy.
[00:56:30] The views expressed in this program are those of the individuals and not those of NHP or its board of trustees or its underwriters. If you liked what you heard spread the word. Give us a review on Apple podcasts to help other listeners find us. And thanks.