Rising life expectancy and falling birth rates mean populations around the world are getting older. By 2050, the world will have more than two billion people over the age of 60. However, the outlook on growing older is portrayed as a ‘narrative of decline’ rather than a time of opportunity and change. The negative perceptions on later life create a real challenge. Changing our own and society’s attitudes to ageing is essential if we are to make some of the more fundamental changes in how we live, work and play. This will require action from governments and business, to media and creative industries, communities and ourselves. And the time to act is now – our future selves depend on it.
Perceptions and experiences of growing old
People’s perceptions and experiences of growing old are markedly different from their grandparents’ generation and vary greatly across countries and cultures. It is perhaps no surprise though, that the biggest determinant of what someone thinks of as being old is their own age; the older we get, the more likely we are to define old as someone older than ourselves. Those who are 16-24 believe that old age is reached at 61, where for those aged 55-64 and on the cusp of later life, old age doesn’t start until you’re 72.
In part due to how older people are (mis)represented in the media, advertising and public life, our perceptions of later life are often woefully inaccurate. These misperceptions have several impacts – because we do not know what to expect from our later years we are not prepared (mentally, financially or practically) for this potentially substantial phase of our lives. In addition, if we view old age as a period of decline and ill health we are more likely to have negative feelings about old age, leading to depression and a negative experience of old age. Linked to this misperception about old age, we are very unclear about how much money we need to have in our pension pots to ensure a comfortable income once we stop working. The closer we get to the age of retirement, the better we are at estimating how much we need to have saved. However, by this point it may be too late to do anything about it.
Be aware not to focus on the negative aspects
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.
Our ageing society creates, besides social challenges, exciting opportunities. By focusing on the negative aspects of ageing we are in danger of missing out on all the positive elements later life has to offer. To make ageing a time of opportunity, rather than a period of decline, there are a number of lessons that government, business and we as individuals need to take on board. Crucial though, is that we stop framing ageing as just a challenge. It is complex, undoubtedly, but also one of the greatest opportunities: we all have the opportunity to become Perennials.
Ipsos - in association with the Centre for Ageing Better - conducted research in 30 countries on the public perceptions of ageing and how they prepare on their later life. Read the full report ‘The Perennials: The Future of Ageing’ here.