Living By Stage, Not Age: The Key To A More Fulfilling Life
5 minute read
By Jean Chatzky, Host of Your Money Map show, and Education Fellow, Alliance Retirement Income Institute
As the old saying goes, “age is just a number.” No one believes that more than Susan Golden, the author of “Stage (Not Age): How to Understand and Serve People Over 60–the Fastest Growing, Most Dynamic Market in the World.” In her book, Golden argues not only that we should be living life by stage (not age) and that tremendous opportunities exist for businesses willing to shift gears and tap into the “longevity economy.”
Setting The Stage For A “100 Year Life”
A former partner in a venture capital firm, Golden had her “stage not age” epiphany while participating in Stanford’s “Distinguished Career Institute.” The one-year fellowship program helps those who are mid-career relaunch in new professions. There, surrounded by peers in their 50s and 60s, Golden noticed something. “Everybody thinks of themselves by labels, retired, senior, elderly,” she said “I felt like nobody who I was in school with thought of themselves that way. I certainly didn’t, I didn’t want to be called a senior, I don’t want to be called an elderly person because of my age.”
That’s a statement many people can relate to. In 2024, the US will hit what’s known as “Peak 65” in 2024. That’s when we will see the greatest surge of Americans turning 65 — about 12,000 individuals a day. But of course, they’re not all alike.
WATCH Your Money Map: Living By Stage, Not Age: The Key To A More Fulfilling Life
Golden recognized a tremendous opportunity that could only be harnessed if society stopped lumping older individuals into one big bucket of “frail, elderly and declining.” As people live longer lives, companies, and the public at large, should be looking at what stage people are in, instead of what their age is. “We should look at this group as having enormous age diversity…and reduce this bias about thinking about everybody just by a number.”
What Are Life’s Stages?
In her book, Golden explains, there are 18 life stages. They aren’t sequential and a person might not go through all of them. In fact, you might be in two stages at once and some stages, depending on where life takes you, might end up repeating themselves.
Golden argues that two stages are most important–continuous learning and caregiving. “You will need to be a continuous learner throughout your (whole) life if you want to stay vibrant,”says Golden.“Your learning can’t just happen in your 20s and 30s to last a 60 year career span.” A big part of that learning is making intergenerational connections, which Golden belives is a major component of a rich life. “We’ve been in an age segregated world where people lived in senior living communities,” she says. “Now, there’s a real movement to bring the generations together where there could be so much mutual learning.”
At one time or another, Golden says the vast majority of us will also enter the caregiving stage, whether it’s to care for a child, aging parent or another loved one. This stage can present unique challenges, especially for women. “There’s 53 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. and 61% are women,” she says. “It impacts them disproportionately, as they often take career breaks.”
Managing Your Money By Stage, Not Age
It goes without saying that the longer we live, the more money we are going to need–and the sooner a person can start planning for that, the better. “Too often their paradigm of how much money they would need was based on a much lower life expectancy that exists today,” says Golden.”If you reach age 65, and in good health without serious illness, you have more than a 50% chance of living into your 90s. That’s another 30 years…when that realization comes, (people understand) they have to make a mindset shift.”
Part of that “mindset shift” for many means working longer. In recent years, we’ve witnessed the growth of a phenomenon known as “unretiring.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. saw a surge of retirees. Now, according to a recent study, 20% of those who identify as retired are currently employed either part-time or full-time. An additional 7% of survey participants are actively looking for work.
Those reentering the workforce may return to the field they were previously employed in, switch gears entirely, or might find themselves working what Golden calls a “portfolio career,” which means using your talents and experience to do a few different things simultaneously.
Leaning Into The Longevity Economy
Much of Golden’s work centers around how businesses can tap into life’s stages and the $22 billion global “longevity economy.” To do so, she says business leaders should ask themselves several questions:
- What existing products and services can be marketed to older adults?
- What products and services can be tweaked slightly to become more appealing to an older population?
- How are you going to accommodate and maximize intergenerational teams within your organization?
One example Golden points to of a business successfully tapping into the longevity economy is BMW. Their marketing was tailored to 18 to 34 year olds when in reality, the majority of their drivers were age 55 and older. They recognized the need to accommodate that population and did so in ways that weren’t obvious –for example, changing the font size on the dashboard. The result was a dramatic increase in sales.
The Bottom Line
As we age, and look at our lives in stages, Golden stresses that it’s important to focus on a term she coined called “furtherhood.” Our lives aren’t to be defined by “elderhood” or “seniorhood,” but instead, a time of vibrancy and new opportunities, or in other words, futherhood. “It’s really about looking forward and further at different ways you can contribute your life, your wisdom and your skills.”