MOST PEOPLE RETIRE BEFORE THEY HAVE ACTUALLY GOTTEN OLD
People today are obsessed with the idea of lifelong autonomy and mobility—and it is changing their relationship to aging. It is no longer enough to age beautifully and gracefully; now we must age in such a way that we retain our ability to do things, to contribute and be productive, and to remain a vital part of what is happening around us. At a time when a growing percentage of the world’s population is age 65 or older, this shift in attitudes and behaviors will have significant consequences for virtually every consumer-facing industry. As marketers, we need to do what we can to ease people’s aging-related fears and provide them with the tools they need to maintain their health, fitness, finances, and independence as long as possible.
Feeling a bit crowded? In this decade, the world’s population has bounded past 7 billion. And it is not just because more babies are being born; people are also sticking around longer. In fact, as of 2012, an estimated 6.9% of the world’s population was age 65 or older. That’s around 483 million people—or more than the populations of the United States, Mexico, and Canada combined.
What will be the consequences of this demographic shift? That is what Havas Group set out to explore through an online survey of 7,213 adults in 19 countries. What we discovered is that, as the average life expectancy increases (it is now 67 globally, with a high of nearly 83 in Japan), our perceptions of aging and what it means to be “old” are changing. And so are our notions of how—and when—we want our lives to end.
Key findings include:
It takes a lot longer to grow “old.” Modern lifestyles—including the tendency to stay in school longer and marry and procreate later—are pushing back the onset of old age. Whereas a century ago most people around the globe didn’t make it to age 40, today middle age doesn’t even begin until 48, according to our respondents. And old age doesn’t start until 71. In other words, most people retire before they have actually gotten old.
It takes us even longer to feel old. Nearly 6 in 10 of our global respondents say they feel younger than their age and are also confident they look younger than most of their peers.
People are tired of feeling they need to live up to an unattainable youth ideal. A large majority of those surveyed believe society has grown much too youth-obsessed—and most intend to embrace aging rather than fight it every step of the way.
People’s biggest concerns about aging center on loss of independence, mobility, and financial security. With the post-retirement period lasting longer and traditional forms of support (e.g., extended family, government programs) disappearing, there is a sense that older people are being left to fend for themselves.
Concerns about the downsides of aging are leading people to question whether they actually want to stay alive as long as possible. When asked whether they would take a pill that would guarantee they would live to age 100 but without any certainties regarding their physical or mental state, 72% said they would give it a pass. Many respondents said they would rather not live into their late 90s, preferring to die younger, when they are less frail and more independent.