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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas

Noteworthy: Acknowledging Our Age

May 10, 2016

While millennials start to make a real mark within the U.S. workplace, employers must grapple with the lasting influence of baby boomers as they slowly transition out of the workplace. Society in general will experience this seismic generational shift on multiple fronts, including within the political arena. During an unusual U.S. presidential election cycle, one issue that transcends party politics is age. America is undeniably getting older, and the associated pressures on federal spending on programs like Medicare and Social Security will only increase.

According to Age Wave ( Founder and CEO Ken Dychtwald, the profound business, social, health-care, financial, workforce, and cultural and intergenerational implications and opportunities that may result from this demographic shift are barely receiving attention in the political discourse. And yet, longevity will no doubt shape future decisions related to the medical, scientific, infrastructure, and economic priorities of this nation.

Among the issues Dychtwald suggests require further review are age-related disease and elder poverty. While modern medical advances have helped prolong our lifespan, much less attention has been paid to extending our "healthspan." Medical spend remains tilted toward care versus cure, notes Dychtwald. And, doctors generally are not "aging-ready." Age Wave cites statistics indicating there are fewer than 5,000 geriatricians compared to 50,000 pediatricians, and that "only eight of the country's 145 academic medical centers have full geriatrics departments."

The potential for mass elder poverty also looms. About half (52 percent) of all households headed by someone 55 years or older have no retirement savings, according to the Government Accounting Office, and an equal amount (51 percent) do not have a pension beyond Social Security.

One reason Dychtwald suggests we live in a more youth-focused society is that many within our population are "gerontophobic," uncomfortable not only with older adults, but also with our own aging process. One reason we extend this form of ageism in our decision making may be a lack of imagination about how to make use of the experience of older Americans, notes Dychtwald, which is ironic given that the remaining candidates vying for the highest office in the country are themselves squarely in this camp. And they are in good company. With baby boomers turning 70 at the rate of about 10,000 each day, this generation represents a powerful voting block that out-votes its younger cohorts by sizable margins, thus continuing to make its presence felt as it has each decade.