Realizing the Potential of Longer Life: The New “Longevity Economy”

April 22, 2021

2021 Friedman Lecture & Awards Summary

Written by Kim Furlow, Institute for Public Health

 

We are living longer today but we can also live BETTER – the opportunity is here! This was the main theme of the virtual 20th annual Friedman Lecture & Awards, on April 14, which featured awards presentations for outstanding work in the field of aging and a rousing keynote by MIT AgeLab founder and Director, Joe Coughlin.

Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging Director, Dr. Nancy Morrow-Howell kicked off the event with an update on how the Center has weathered the pandemic and engaged in research, published articles and conducted seminars about the impact of COVID-19 on the older population. Some of these efforts include:

  • Supporting the collection of data on the effects of COVID-19 among members of a national aging in place organizations called Villages, one of which is a Friedman Center partner here in St. Louis.  The center supported an IPH-funded study of the effects of COVID-19 on individuals and caregivers.
  • The center has published articles regarding COVID-19, ageism and its impact on older individuals. Check the Friedman Center webpage for ongoing updated articles and publications.
  • The Washington University for Life initiative continues at WashU with research, partnerships and activities focused on age-inclusivity in higher education. The Center is part of the global Age-Friendly University Network.
  • Your Next Move Retirement seminars continue to see university-wide attendance as they focus on non-financial aspects of retiring with a purpose. Watch a presentation.
  • The Summer Research Program, Aging and Neurological Diseases track will host 7 students this summer.
  • Issues in Aging seminars feature commentary on aging from experts in medicine, social work, public health, psychology, law and more. Watch presentations.

The annual event is also a time to recognize outstanding work in the field of aging. 2021 Awardees include:

The Alene and Meyer Kopolow Award for Geriatrics, Psychiatry and Neurology
Emily Somerville, OTD, OTR/L, Instructor in Occupational Therapy and Neurology

The Harvey A. and Dorismae Hacker Friedman Award for Excellence in Service to Older Adults
David Sykora, Former Executive Director of the St. Louis Area Agency on Aging

The Mark S. Wrighton Research Award on Aging
Judge’s Choice: Meghan McDarby, PhD candidate, Psychological and Brain Sciences
People’s Choice: Audrey Keleman, PhD candidate, Rehabilitation and Participation Science Program

Read awardee bios.

Keynote speaker, Joe Coughlin, gave the audience an energetic overview of the “Longevity Economy” and what it means to grow older today versus 10+ years ago. “It’s no longer our parent’s retirement.”

Coughlin spoke about how today’s older adults want to grab opportunities, work well past age 55 and typically achieve much more than the stereotypical “retirement of babysitting and golf outings”. What is the future of our home? Transportation? Caregiving? Retirement?

“As education and income go up, birth rates go down,” Coughlin says.  “This is where we are today. By 2047, we will have more people on the planet over the age of 60 than we will have kids under age 18. This is a chance for innovation, people working longer and living a meaningful and purposeful life.”

During COVID-19, Coughlin’s team has found that older adults are now much more tech-savvy than previous generations. According to their studies, the fastest growing group of people engaging in video games is 50+ years old. “Older people are showing they want to win!”

Coughlin adds that people are living, working and playing longer today, which gives companies an opportunity to cater to this age group with products and services that they not only need, but that they also want.

Coughlin’s focus on women—”they outnumber men, control household spending and finances, and are leading the charge toward tomorrow’s creative new narrative of later life”—was especially illuminating.

In short, Coughlin believes that the unmet need, or “Longevity Economy,” is the gap between what our parents/grandparents wanted as they aged and what older adults can achieve today.

“The story of old age is made up,” says Coughlin. “We need to change the story to one that shows that aging looks and feels different today than it did years ago. Just because we age, does not mean our ‘vital force’ drains. This is an opportunity to make our world ‘age ready’! We as a society have an obligation to think about the accessibility, the affordability (the inequities related to aging) and the acceptability of innovations for the aging population. Aging should not be seen as a problem. Older adults today are an opportunity to be realized.”

Watch the 2021 Friedman Lecture & Awards presentation.

Joe Coughlin 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 is a senior contributor to Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, and has served on advisory committees for the White House. His new book is entitled, “The Longevity Economy Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market”. 

The Friedman Lecture & Awards is supported by the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at the Institute for Public Health, The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the Harvey A. & Dorismae Hacker Friedman Fund.