2021 Friedman Lecture & Awards, April 14

March 31, 2021

Keynote speaker for Friedman Lecture & Awards says it’s time to rethink our vision of getting older

Written by Kim Furlow, Institute for Public Health


Joe Coughlin, the keynote speaker for this year’s Friedman Lecture & Awards, knows all about issues in aging, how to grab opportunities and ways to circumvent the challenges of growing older. He leads the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab and is a researcher, teacher and advisor who explores how global demographics, technology and changing behaviors are transforming business & society. He’s a senior contributor to Forbes and the Wall Street Journal and has served on advisory committees for the White House.

On April 14, the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging will host its annual lecture and awards event from 9 to 10:30 a.m. and Dr. Coughlin says he’s excited to be the keynote speaker on the topic “Writing a New Story for Old Age in Today’s Longevity Economy.”

We recently caught up with this busy visionary to discuss his thoughts behind this fascinating and important concept in aging.

Q: Who do you consider “older adults” today?

A: Believe it or not, age 45 and over. This is the time when you might be a caregiver, calling your parents not just to say hello but to see how they’re doing physically. It’s also a time when you see your doctor and he says, “You’re doing ok, but you might want to watch this…” Also, it’s a time when we should be developing not only products, services and experiences that are useful in healthcare, but that are also cool and interesting for all age groups in mind. No one wants to buy a service or product that says, “This is for an old man or woman.”  

Q: Explain the meaning behind the title of your talk: Writing a New Story for Old Age in Today’s Longevity Economy. What is “the Longevity Economy?”

A: The Longevity Economy means today’s new generation of older adults has different expectations then our parents or grandparents had. The previous generation expected to just pull back and retire. This new generation of the aging economy expects not only to live longer, but to have new products, services and experiences that meet their expectations today. They want something that is not only going to help them live longer, but live better.

Q: What are the key takeaways you hope the audience gains from your keynote?

A: Since the beginning of time, we as a society have strived to live longer. Now that we ARE living longer than ever before, (life expectancy is close to age 100 today,) somehow, politicians and economists look at longer life as a problem to be solved. I want people who attend this event to see longevity as an opportunity to be realized.

Q: In your opinion, what are the most pressing issues facing the aging population today?

We need to write a new story about old age. We need a narrative that looks at older adults not just as retirees or babysitters, but we need our institutions to rethink education for a lifetime, the workplace to be ergonomically correct and ageless in its approach to policies and procedures, and transportation to be safe for everyone across the spectrum. Recalibrating society and the story of how we age should be the norm as we continue to reach 100 years, not stop after age 60 when we tend to get “farmed out” as babysitters or relegated to the golf course.

Q: How can we combat ageism in the workforce? 

A: Unfortunately, it is the Babyboomers who have perpetuated the idea that after age 40, we are somehow able to do less. Now that GenXers are in positions of power and influence in their workplaces, they have the opportunity to change this myth. The old story that after a certain age, we stop learning new things, don’t know technology, or can no longer be productive, actually stems from stories from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when “work” was what we could do physically. Now that our work is more thought-based, or “knowledge work”, we need to look at workers of any age from a perspective of what they can DO versus how many birthdays they have accumulated.    

Q: Why do you think attending this year’s Friedman Lecture and Awards event is important?

A: This is not a discussion about old age. It’s about an emerging market hiding in plain sight! It’s about rethinking society for not only the 50-60 year old age group considering retirement, but for a lifespan that is getting closer to 100 and new markets of opportunities, products, services and experiences. It’s also an agenda for companies to develop new inventions, innovations and insights that enlighten life tomorrow. No matter what your age, you need to come to this event.

Join us for the Friedman Lecture & Awards, April 14, from 9 to 10:30 a.m. This event will take place virtually via Zoom webinar. Please register for your unique link to attend.