80 is the new 80

5 minute read

There’s a saying, “It’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.” If you subscribe to this attitude, you may already know what research is revealing – staying active and connected to people and the world around as you age creates a resilience which can make your later years happier and healthier, both physically, and emotionally. The concept of “oldness” is, ironically, really just an old but lingering stereotype, manufactured in a long-gone era.

Older Americans control most of the disposable income, and businesses are finally discovering new ways to innovate and cater to not only their needs, but also their wants. As Joe Coughlin says in his book, The Longevity Economy, “A new generation of older adults is beginning to demand far more out of later life than ever before: not just passive consumerism, but the active pursuit of meaning… women, particularly those of middle age and above, are likely to be the leaders in identifying new wants and the products and services designed to support them on their journey.”

WATCH Your Money Map: the future is female


Joe Coughlin, Founder and Director at MIT AgeLab, joined Jean Chatzky on Your Money Map to discuss the future is female on July 27, 2022.

Your new friends, Alexa and Siri (and the metaverse?)

Over 77 percent of adults report the desire to “age in place.” Said another way – to stay in their home, not an assisted living facility or nursing home (AARP 2021). And this desire is understandable. There is familiarity and probably a network of friends and family supporting you nearby. The good news – new technologies can help a lot if you make this decision. The pandemic helped many older people learn to harness the power of home delivery for essentials like groceries and prescriptions. And cameras, for outside the home and inside the home, plus smart devices, provide peace of mind and safety for many older people. Businesses are also stepping up to help make this life choice easier: Lowes Livable Home and NaviGuide are just two examples of companies that are catering to help aging consumers, and their caregivers, live happily with this choice. And speaking of caregiving – upwards of 75 percent of all caregivers are female and spend 50 percent more time providing care than males (Institute on Aging 2016). This comes at not only an emotional and physical cost, but also a financial cost. The value of this unpaid care was estimated to be between $416.3 billion and $861.3 billion in 2020 (National Partnership of Women and Families 2021).

And though most older Americans don’t yet understand what the metaverse is, there is increasing evidence that it can be transformative to people’s lives as they age. For example, virtual reality headsets are helping older Americans reduce social isolation, communicate and play with grandchildren, travel and have life-like experiences in countries they only dreamed of visiting.

Plan and prepare

Putting your goals and wishes into a plan of how and where you want to live is a critical step in retirement planning. But just as important – preparing for how you will do this. Preparing for longevity entails identifying and putting into place the preferences, things, people, and services that you’ll need to live well in retirement. Think of it as longevity preparedness – the conscious envisioning and solving for the many and diverse challenges that you will face as you age.

Part of this preparation may mean protecting your savings and retirement income from volatile markets and uncertainty by adding an annuity to your portfolio, which will give you a guaranteed stream of income you can count on each month for a certain period or for the rest of your life. Protected income from an annuity can give you that must-have money to help cover your basic monthly expenses such as a mortgage or rent, utilities, groceries, or transportation, so you have the peace of mind knowing those essential costs are covered.

Innovative Financial Professionals catering to clients in this life phase have also learned that it takes a combination of skills – psychological, coaching, financial – to help you prepare properly. This is not just about how you will generate income; it is how you will continue to thrive emotionally. Joe Coughlin, Director of MIT’s AgeLab, puts it this way, “Retirement planning is seemingly synonymous with constructing and growing an investment portfolio to ensure financial security in older age. Not incorrect, but incomplete. What about our social wellbeing? Should we actively think about how to structure, build, and invest in our social portfolio long before retirement as part of our overall longevity planning?”

Women and men both need to pay close attention to this aspect of successful aging. Thirty years ago, 55 percent of men reported having at least six close friends. Today, that number has been cut in half. Slightly more than 27 percent of men have six or more close friends today. Fifteen percent of men have no close friendships at all (5x increase since 1990). Women have witnessed a friendship decline too, but it has been far less pronounced. In 1990, roughly 41 percent of women said they had six or more close friends, compared to 24 percent today. Ten percent of women reporting having no close friends (American Perspective Surveys 2021).

Checklist to prepare for the Longevity Economy

  • Prepare for how and where you want to live. A plan is a start, but it’s not enough.
  • Identify what products and services will provide the solutions you need.
  • Make technology your friend. Literally as well as functionally.
  • Find a Financial Professional prepared to offer you resources beyond just investing.
  • Build your social portfolio:
    • Do you have an ample number of friends that provide the social capital necessary to address life’s many dimensions: to remain connected, to have fun, and to manage difficult times?
    • Do you have in person friends or are they social media friends that only share pet pics? Connectedness is critical and needs more than just on a computer screen or phone.
    • Are you actively seeking activities and places to increase the number of chance encounters you have to meet new people and to make new friends?
    • And when was the last time you picked up the phone and privately asked a friend from long ago, “Hi, how ya doin’?”

Joe Coughlin
Joseph F. Coughlin, PhD is Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab. He teaches in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies & Planning and the Sloan School’s Advanced Management Program. Coughlin conducts research on the impact of global demographic change and technology trends on consumer behavior and business strategy. He advises a wide variety of global firms in financial services, healthcare, leisure and travel, luxury goods, real estate, retail, technology, and transportation. Coughlin has served on advisory boards for firms such as Bell Canada, British Telecom, Daimler, Fidelity Investments and Sanofi-Aventis. He was appointed by President George W. Bush to the White House Advisory Committee on Aging and by Governor Charlie Baker to the Governor’s Council on Aging in Massachusetts where he co-chaired the Innovation & Technology Subcommittee. A Behavioral Sciences Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and a Fellow of Switzerland’s World Demographics & Ageing Forum, Coughlin is a Senior Contributor to Forbes and writes regularly for MarketWatch and the Wall Street Journal. He was named by Fast Company Magazine as one the ‘100 Most Creative in Business’ and by the Wall Street Journal as inventing the future of retirement. Recently, Coughlin was recognized as one of 15 World Mindsby the Zurich-based World Minds, a select community of global leaders in science, arts and business. His recent book, The Longevity Economy: Inside the World’s Fastest Growing, Most Misunderstood Market (Public Affairs, 2017), is one of CEO READ’s Business Bestsellers.


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