Reaping the Longevity Dividend of Aging Populations
In the Milken Institute report “Redefining Traditional Notions of Aging,” we examine how longer, healthier lives are changing the way older adults define and experience the aging process. Historically, being old has essentially meant being sidelined, uninvolved in work and the activities that move society forward. The new aging experience, however, has shifted to active participation in pursuits that offer opportunities for social contribution and provide a greater sense of self-worth and meaning. The wisdom, experience, and other qualities that older people bring to these activities generate benefits far beyond themselves. But many institutions are unprepared to tap this “longevity dividend” and capture the upside of this transformation.
To enjoy these benefits, societies must modernize conditions for older people. First, it requires an enabling physical environment. This includes policies that allow older adults to remain involved and active, from employment practices that bar discrimination to accessible and ergonomic infrastructure. Second, it requires an empowering cultural environment that ensures older adults feel a sense of belonging to their communities and companies and derive a sense of purpose from their activities.
The three institutions we examined in the report—the governments of Singapore and New York City and the leaders of German vehicle manufacturer BMW—are contending with an aging trend that could weaken growth and social cohesion. But each institution is working to build an environment that will unlock the value of a more involved and engaged older population.
By 2050, one-third of Singapore’s population will be at least 65 years old, according to projections. In response, the government seeks to create a society that enables a “dignified aging experience” full of activities, social engagements, and learning opportunities supported by an ecosystem of health services, housing and infrastructure policies, and employment practices. It wants aging Singaporeans to have plenty of opportunities to contribute.
BMW found itself in an aging nation, which it took as a chance to better align its workforce philosophy—“You are an asset. We need you to succeed”—with its production process. The firm showed how simple ergonomic changes can allow older workers to remain as productive as their younger colleagues and keep them engaged and committed to their work.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other leaders of the city’s “Age-Friendly NYC” initiative believed that aging residents who are active, independent, and socially connected would contribute significantly to their communities and the city. So authorities partnered with grassroots institutions, making use of their expertise to design and implement programs that would improve older residents’ quality of life.
Our report examines how these institutions leveraged the strengths of their unique institutional cultures to build enabling and empowering environments for older people. In the same way, nations, companies, and communities around the world could develop strategies suited to their needs that would generate the longevity dividend. Tapping this benefit isn’t about requiring older adults to spend their additional years of life in the workforce. Rather, it’s about putting their wealth of knowledge and abilities to good use, for themselves and for society.