Boomers are defying age norms and you are losing out

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A new market opportunity is taking center stage in the American economy: seniors. They’re not just an expanding proportion of the U.S. population; they’re redefining “retirement.” 

Rather than winding down post-65, they are a growing share of the U.S. labor force, active consumers, and digital users with spending power in today’s economy. These seniors’ institutional knowledge and cultural influence will reimagine the golden years, challenging stereotypes to open the path for a more inclusive, diverse future.  

Seniors by the numbers

In the decade leading up to 2020, the Census Bureau recorded a remarkable surge in the population aged 65 and older: an increase of 15.5 million people in this group, dwarfing the previous record, a 5.7 million increase between 1980 and 1990. The proportion of seniors also leaped from 13% to 16.8% of the total U.S. population, a growth magnitude not seen in the 50 years prior combined. Amidst this demographic shift, a recent Labor Department survey revealed that Americans age 65 and up accounted for 22% of spending, up from 15% in 2010.

And we are just getting started. Seniors will top 22% of the U.S. population by 2050 and those over age 50 will command 60% of global spending according to AARP’s Global Longevity Economy Outlook. 

A cultural shift  

The story of seniors in the U.S. is more than just numbers. Some experts predict that we are entering the golden age of seniors’ impact on culture. Icons like Iris Apfel have shaped fashion discourse into their 80s and 90s, inspiring fans a fraction of their age. Jane Fonda and other notable seniors starred in British Vogue’s award-winning Non-Issue Issue, challenging age-related stigma and emphasizing the significance of older women as the fastest-growing demographic worldwide.

At 86, Nike cofounder Phil Knight continues to leave a cultural mark, not only catalyzing the development of Nike’s new senior-friendly CruzrOne shoe, but also as a symbol of wisdom and restraint in a screen-dominated era—most notably during a celebrated moment with LeBron James. This illustrates the profound, often understated influence of the senior generation.

Beyond these household names, initiatives like Silver Pride are pioneering inclusivity for older LGBTQ citizens. Launching its first U.S. test in Atlanta, Silver Pride offers a novel approach to celebrating Pride, accommodating those who might find traditional festivities challenging. In Paris and Malta, the initiative welcomed participants, some attending Pride for the first time, into apartments along parade routes. This reflected a commitment to inclusivity and the recognition of the unique contributions of seniors to the fight for civil rights.

Technology levels the playing field 

The old narrative that seniors and technology don’t mix? Throw that out. With data showing seniors diving into digital banking and online shopping, it’s clear they’re not just getting by; they’re leading the charge in the digital revolution. Research from Capital One highlights that seniors are already the most competent group when it comes to managing their money online. 

The workplace is evolving, too, with businesses increasingly seeking the experience and wisdom of senior talent. Currently, 19% of adults 65 and older are employed, compared to 11% in 1987, according to Pew Research. Moreover, individuals aged 65 and older constitute the most rapidly expanding group within the labor force. By 2032, it’s expected that one in every four U.S. workers will be 55 or older, with nearly one in 10 being 65 or older, showcasing the growing presence of seniors in the workplace.

Change lifespan to healthspan 

Innovations like AI and telemedicine are not just conveniences but lifelines, enabling seniors to lead fuller, more engaged lives. According to the Global Healthspan Report, the science of healthspan is flourishing, as investors and scientists challenge the assumption of chronic disease being inevitable with age. With the surge in the senior population, these scientific and technical innovations are essential. This tech-forward group is redefining what it means to be a power user, turning the tables on who drives technology adoption. 

A prime illustration of the advancement in senior tech adoption is the FDA’s approval of a novel category of self-adjustable, over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. Brands such as Bose and Sony have introduced OTC hearing aids that can be configured through a smartphone application. Even hearing tests are moving online with widespread adoption. 

Meanwhile 80+ year old skiers, the Wild old Bunch (started in Alta, Utah in 1973), now has around 115 members and skiers over 70 years old, with some over 100 at other ski resorts are having fun and staying in shape so they can continue to ski. They could be a market for new innovative senior ski, comparable to Nike’s CruzrOne.

The takeaway? 

Marketers and business leaders should adjust their lens to see the opportunities inherent to engaging with and innovating products or services for this dynamic and influential demographic. Seniors have both the time and money to be a driving force in the market, rich in diversity and experience, and savvy in ways that demand attention. Recognizing their value means seeing them as integral to culture, the workforce, and future technological innovations.  

Blake Cadwell is CEO and cofounder at Soundly.com and Barie Carmichael is a senior counselor at APCO Worldwide.

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