Archive | Trends/Studies/Research

The Burgeoning Silver Economy

online shoppping

online shopppingSometimes it takes a while for a message to sink in. Consider the following:  I’m a visiting fellow at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. I blog about how to live productive and meaningful second half of life. I regularly attend conferences about longevity. And yet, it wasn’t until – shortly before Christmas –  I found myself watching a parade of innovators present three-minute pitches on products for the over-50 market that it dawned on me:  as a 53-year-old, I am the demographic they are trying to reach.

The setting was Zinc, a London-based incubator that seeks to solve the world’s most pressing social problems at scale. This year’s mission, Zinc 3,  supports products and services that add five more years of high quality to later life. I’m one of a number of fellows for Zinc 3, there to offer advice and help these projects come to fruition.

The products featured at the December event – all of which are still in the development phase – tackled topics ranging from menopause to hearing loss to job skills and beyond. While not all of them struck a chord with me, I was surprised by how many of them did. And if they weren’t quite right for me, I could definitely see their appeal for friends and family.

Read the rest of this post over on the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: Black Friday Online Shopping via PXFuel

Tips for Adulthood: Five Ideas for a Fast-Changing World

running long distance

running long distanceLast Thursday, I had the privilege of attending the second annual meeting of The Longevity Forum, a relatively new player on the UK’s ageing scene.

As I noted last year when I attended the inaugural event, The Longevity Forum takes a two-pronged approach to the demographic realities of a globally ageing population. It is, on the one hand, interested in the potential for current scientific research to extend the lifespan. But the organisation is also focused on the social and economic implications of this so-called longevity dividend.

As the conference was invitation-only, this blog shares five ideas I took away:

Read the rest of this blog over at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: Runner running long distance via Pixabay

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The Social Value of Older Workers

In the seemingly never-ending conversation about the “future of work,” older workers figure prominently. There is growing recognition that enabling older workers to remain economically productive is good for their well-being, good for their employers and good for the economy. But I would like to highlight another benefit older workers can bring to the table: their potential to help solve social problems.

First, a brief detour to the well-known numbers:  older workers are a large, and rapidly growing, segment of the workforce across the world. In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 25% of the country’s labour force in 2024 will be 55 or older; that’s up from 22% in 2014 and just 12% in 1994. In the U.K., the number of those aged over 70 who are in full- or part-time employment has been steadily rising year on year for the past decade, reaching a peak of 497,946 in the first quarter of this year – an increase of 135% since 2009.

Not everyone agrees that this surge in the number of working “perennials”  – as this cohort has sometimes been called — is necessarily to be welcomed. A recent RSA report examining the impact of the technological age on older workers in the UK, for example, outlined four different scenarios, not all of which were positive.

But contrary to the traditional view of older workers as an unmitigated drain on resources, there is growing appreciation of what they might bring to the table.

Read the rest of this post over on the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: Office Business Colleagues Meeting via Pixabay

Like what you’re reading? Sign up to my “Good Reads for Grownups” newsletter, a monthly round up of books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and other great resources about the eternal journey of adulthood, plucked from around the web. Subscribe here

Building Awareness of The New (Old) Age: A Curriculum

midlife crisis car

midlife crisis carMiddle age is having a rebirth. Rather than conceptualizing this phase of life as something to survive, a new vision is taking hold, one that views midlife as a time of renewal and opportunity.

Instead of focusing on the statistically validated dip in happiness that settles in around 40, writers and scholars are now more interested in its upward slope. Jonathan Rauch’s The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50  is just the latest example of this new literature on positive ageing.

This more optimistic take on middle age coincides with the reality that we are currently living in an age of longevity. The numbers speak for themselves. The average life expectancy for women in most industrialized countries is expected to exceed 85 by 2030. Of the babies born in 2017 in the U.K., the predicted real-life expectancy was 104, while in Japan it was 107.

But while the notion that we’re all living to be 100 may have caught on in the popular imagination, there’s still a good way to go in the policy sphere. It’s true that a rapidly aging population places all kinds of strains on government resources – requiring a shift in how we think about things like pensions and housing and beyond. But it also presents an opportunity. So we need to start thinking about how these “young old” people can keep contributing actively to their own – and society’s – well-being.

Motivating politicians to do something constructive and imaginative about engaging this older cohort begins by building awareness on a mass level. To my mind, there are three ways to improve public understanding of the particular characteristics and needs of this  “older” demographic.

Read the rest of this blog over at The Oxford Institute for Population Ageing

Image: VW Daimler Dart Midlife Crisis by Cracknell123 via Pixabay

21st Century Skills For Older Workers

Older Worker

Older WorkerIn an era where people in the West are living longer and healthier lives, older workers  not only can – but often choose – to remain in the workforce longer or return to work post-retirement.

The numbers speak for themselves. In the UK, over 50s now make up nearly one third (31%) of the entire workforce, up from around one in five (21%) in the early 1990s. In the US, two age groups – 65 to 74 years old and 75 and older – are projected to have faster annual rates of labor force growth than that of any others.

A consensus is emerging that if we are to benefit from the value that older workers can bring to the workforce, businesses will need to adjust their hiring practices and rethink their commitment to things like flexible hours and re-training programmes.  So too will our concept of education need to evolve, to place even greater emphasis on life-long learning and multi-generational classrooms.

But to do this, we we will also need to rethink the sorts of skills these workers need if they are to remain “fit for purpose” in this changing workforce..and how to obtain them.

Read the rest of this post over at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: Man sitting on chair beside table by Bruce Mars via Pexels

It Takes A (Retirement) Village: Solving the Elderly Housing Crisis in the UK

retirement village

retirement village

“It takes a Village,” Hillary Rodham Clinton once famously wrote. She was referring to how societies can best support children to become able, resilient adults. But I think the same principle might readily be applied to how we care for a rapidly ageing population.

I began to turn this over in my mind whilst checking into a recent flight back to America to help my 86 year-old mother move into an “independent living” unit located within a larger retirement village. After years of living in a large house on her own, she’d decided to live in a smaller, more manageable space and with more people around her.

In such villages, you buy or rent your own apartment, but have access to dozens of basic support and care services as you need them (for a fee). (The retirement home also takes an “exit fee” when you die or move on to assisted living.)

When I explained all of this to the British Airways employee checking me into my flight, a look of amazement crossed her face.

“I’d love to do something like that for my mother,” she confided. “But in my country (Romania), the family is expected to provide everything, even if you’re working. My sister and I were shamed in my village for not moving back to take care of our mother. I don’t know what to do.”

Read the rest of this post over on the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: The Hawthornes Eastbourne Retirement Home via Wikimedia Commons

Tips For Adulthood: Five Causes Of Loneliness

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Amid the flurry of research on happiness these days, it’s easy to lose sight of another side of adulthood: many of us all suffer from loneliness.

As a recent article in The Atlantic noted, various studies have shown loneliness rising drastically over a very short period of recent history. One leading scholar of loneliness has estimated that as many as one in five Americans suffers from being lonely.

Feeling isolated not only has adverse effects on our mental health, but negative consequences for our physical health as well. One study found that people who were not connected to others were three times as likely to die over the course of nine years as those who had strong social ties. Another study found that people who are lonely are at higher risk for inflammatory diseases. One study even suggested that loneliness may be contagious.

If we are indeed in the midst of a “loneliness epidemic,” it’s worth asking:  what causes loneliness?

1. Aging. Sure, depression is common in old age, and people are living longer than ever before. But the role of the elderly within communities is also shifting, from traditional societies where the elderly held a hallowed place as the repository of community customs, history and stories, to post-industrial societies where this guidance function is much less valued. As this sociological shift takes place, older people risk feeling marginalized from their families and neighborhoods, particularly if they end up in nursing homes.

2. Death and divorce. Writing about the loneliness epidemic, one national columnist talked about the “three D’s”: death, divorce and delayed marriage. It’s not hard to see why the death of a spouse would trigger a feeling of loneliness. Jane E. Brody had a lovely meditation on this topic in The New York Times not long ago. The divorce point is more interesting. We know, for example, that Online dating has seen its highest growth rate among Boomers. But all that dating doesn’t necessarily translate into feeling less lonely. Sometimes it just reinforces it, as people bounce from one partner to another.

3. Social Media. Which brings us to social media. The central thesis of The Atlantic article I referenced earlier is that even as we become ever more connected as a society digitally, we are becoming less immersed in real-life social ties. This is not a new thesis, and as someone who spends a lot of time Online I can readily attest to its accuracy. What’s interesting about the article is that it looks very closely at Facebook, and references research suggesting that while “active” interaction on Facebook – i.e. making a comment on someone’s status update, sending a private message – tends to make people feel less lonely, just passively scrolling through other people’s feeds and hitting the odd “like” button can make you feel more lonely. An earlier study offers some insight into this finding:  because we are psychologically predisposed to over-estimate other people’s happiness, when we see the invariably upbeat, relentlessly witty and sometimes just plain gushing status updates that pretty much define Facebook, it makes us feel worse about ourselves.

4. Commuting. Here’s a factor I hadn’t considered, but which makes perfect sense. According to Robert Putnam, the famed Harvard political scientist and author of Bowling Alone, long commuting times are one of the most robust predictors of social isolation. Specifically, every 10 minutes spent commuting results in 10 percent fewer “social connections.” And those social connections tend to make us feel happy and fulfilled.

5. Genetics. There is also likely a genetic component to loneliness. One survey of loneliness among twins showed much less variability in the self-reporting of loneliness among identical twins than among fraternal ones. ‘There’s also been a lot of fascinating research coming out of The University of Chicago about the way in which loneliness shapes brain development and vice versa, suggesting a neural mechanism in explaining loneliness.


Image: Loneliness by Rickydavid via Flickr under a Creative Commons license


Abortion Research: Is It Ever Unbiased?

In an election year in which women’s reproductive health issues are already front and center, allow me toss one more log onto the fire. A new study has been released challenging the notion that abortion has long-term mental health effects for women.

The study – which was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research – is actually a refutation of an earlier study in the same journal which purported to show that mental health disorders (like panic attacks, depression, substance abuse and post traumatic stress disorder) were higher in women who had terminated their pregnancies.

This initial study was used to inform a number of recent state efforts to restrict abortions, including – most recently – the controversial Virginia proposal that would have required women to undergo a transvaginal ultra-sound before going ahead with the procedure.

But apparently, the methodology in the original study was deeply flawed. By including all lifetime mental health disorders of the women in their sample – rather than only those instances occurring after the abortion took place – the study’s claims were utterly unsubstantiated.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog


Image: I had an abortion by Willem Velthovenen via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Facts About Social Mobility

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

One of the hallmark features of adulthood is believing that you have the means to better yourself. As you step outside the comfort zone of the home in which you were raised, part and parcel of your newfound freedom and responsibility is harnessing that independence towards making something of yourself.

In the American context, at least, there’s the added belief that where you start doesn’t affect where you end up. Describing the putative American Dream, Horatio Alger wrote that we live in  “a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

In other words, people of my generation – and those before me – were all raised believing that, regardless of where we started, we could achieve a life for ourselves that was as good as – if not better than – that of our parents.

What a bummer to discover that this great national mythology that’s sustained us for so many generations may no longer be true. Indeed, a spate of recent studies suggests that Americans – unlike many of their European counterparts – are no longer upwardly mobile.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Social mobility is declining in the U.S. The basic data are startling. According to research by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, despite frequent references to the United States as a classless society, about 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths. Meanwhile, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths. Pew further found that nearly one third of individuals raised in middle-class families couldn’t hold on to their status when they reached adulthood. Yikes.

2. Increased Income inequality is a major culprit. In a recent article in The Atlantic on this topic, Timothy Noah talks about one of the major causes of downward mobility in America: rising income inquality. Drawing on data by labor economist Alan Kreuger and others, Noah notes that during the American industrial revolution, growing income inequality was the price the United States paid for growing economic mobility. In the present era, in contrast, income inequality may be choking off opportunity. If you want to see this in comparative perspective, have a look at this graph of this so-called Great Gatsby Curve on Paul Krugman’s blog at The New York Times which shows quite clearly that the U.S. is both more unequal than other comparable developed countries (as measured by its Gini coefficient) and also has quite limited social mobility (as measured by income heritability). Kreuger further predicts that the persistence in the advantages and disadvantages of income passed from parents to children will rise by about a quarter for the next generation as a result of the rise in inequality that the U.S. has seen in the last twenty-five years. (The U.K. exhibits a similar trend.)

3. The Higher Education System is also to blame. Another culprit is America’s higher education system, which – despite efforts to broaden its applicant pool – remains highly exclusive. A Georgetown University study of the class of 2010 at the country’s 193 most selective colleges showed that of entering freshmen, only 15 percent of students came from the bottom half of the income distribution, while sixty-seven percent came from the highest-earning fourth of the distribution. (Again, you see a similar trend in the U.K.) Another study showed that recruiters for the best firms in investment banking, law and consulting hire disproportionately from only five top schools. With a year’s worth of higher education clocking in at near $50,000, is this at all surprising?

4. Race and Gender matter too. The Pew Study on Economic Mobility also showed that a number of factors have impacted adults’ ability to earn a middle-class income like their parents. Among them are marital status, educational attainment, race and even gender. For instance, those who are divorced, widowed or separated are more likely to fall out of the middle class, and women face a greater likelihood than men. Also, Americans who don’t attend college are likely to face downward mobility, with African American men the most likely to drop out of the middle class.

5. Class tension is also on the rise. In light of all of the above, it should come as no surprise that class conflict is also on the rise. According to a different study by Pew, conflict between rich and poor now eclipses racial strain and friction between immigrants and the native-born as the greatest source of tension in American society.


Image: HIP_339628104.219198 by Steve Rhodes via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Determinants of Emotional Health

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve been thinking a lot about middle age of late, and what it is – exactly – that makes us more or less happy as we round this phase of life.

It might be that my 46th birthday looms on the horizon next week, which makes me feel like I’m already entering the second half of my existence. (For reasons I can’t explain, I have apparently decided that I’m going to live to 90.)

Or it might be that Blue Monday (the third Monday of January, purported to be the saddest day of the year) just passed. Fictitious or not – that milestone always prompts me to reassess my emotional state and decide if I’m happier or sadder than I was at this time last year.

To that end, I’ve taken a keen interest in recent research on emotional health in adulthood and what makes for happier grown ups:

1. Maternal Care – While the research is still confined to rats, it looks like maternal care influences brain chemistry into adulthood. Most of us would probably agree that this statement is likely true. But scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg have demonstrated that intensive maternal care during infancy promotes the development of a specific hormone in the brain, which in turn controls the development of anxiety and stress responses. While the study still needs to be extended to humans, the preliminary results suggest that how much your mother dotes on you when you’re very young may be key to understanding things like post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders as you age. Ditto the adverse effects of maternal favoritism.

2. Religiosity – Another important factor in determining emotional well-being in adulthood is how religious you are. Modern happiness research leaves no doubt that religious people are happier than their contemporaries. This is something that has been born out both within societies and across them. Interestingly, however, American Jews scored the highest of any religious group on a “well-being” index within the United States, even though more than half of Jews are non-religious. So disregard all that kvetching and moaning; behind it all, Jews are actually feeling OK. (Perhaps that’s why I identify so much with them?)

3. Imaginary Friends – Oh! How excited I was to learn this:  a recent study out of NYU shows that having imaginary friends in childhood lays the groundwork for a more stable emotional adulthood. And that’s because through these imaginary friendships, what you’re actually doing is practicing how to express your emotions without fear of censorship or derision, all the while bolstering your creativity and verbal skills. As someone who grew up with a best friend called Con Brick Chair – and must listen endlessly to my own daughter chattering away in her imaginary play – I’m so pleased to hear that this behavior may actually be functional!

4. Early Sex – On the less encouraging end of things, research also suggests that early sex could trigger mood swings in adulthood. Again, the research has so far been conducted only on animals. But it implies that there may be an appropriate “age” to begin having sexual relationships, and that adolescents begin too young, this may have negative consequences for anxiety and depression later on. (Interestingly, being sexually active doesn’t seem to affect their school performance.) Something tells me that – if born out on real teens – these results might be of interest to politicians!

5. Choosing Happiness – I was delighted to happen upon a summary in the New York Times of a new book by Karl Pillemer called 30 Lessons For Living Well. In it, Dr. Pillemer – a human development scholar at Cornell University – interviewed more than 1,000 Americans from different economic, educational and occupational strata to get their personal views on what has made them happy throughout life, ranging from marriage to careers to aging itself. The article is fascinating on many counts, but one particular result stood out. Almost every single one of the interviewees concurred that happiness is a choice, not the result of how life treats you. So regardless of what happens to you early on in life, the consensus from those who’ve been there is that you are in charge of how you react towards those stimuli and for adopting a pro-active approach to being happy.

It’s nice to end on a positive note, no?


Image: Self Portrait by kasi metcalf via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.