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By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging issues
“Old Age” enters a new age. That’s how Age Wave sees it after releasing its new Harris Poll results, revealing that the graying of America is shifting how the nation views growing old and its perception on longevity, health, retirement and sense of purpose.
“Everywhere we turn in American culture today, we see signs that we’ve entered a new age of aging. Bruce Springsteen is selling out concerts at the age of 73; Martha Stewart is a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover model at 81; Warren Buffet continues to dispense financial wisdom at 92. “Old age isn’t what it used to be” has become a familiar refrain,” says Age Wave’s statement released in April 2023, announcing the study’s results.
“This is the first study of its kind. There have been many studies about aging and longevity. We at Age Wave have conducted dozens of them in the United States and all over the world, but never one quite like this. For The New Age of Aging study, we cooked up a series of questions we thought would yield very unusual and provocative answers, and we were not disappointed,” says Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., CEO of Age Wave, a California-based think tank focusing on the lifestyle, marketing, healthcare, economic, leisure, workforce, and political implications of the age wave. He is also the author of 19 books including his new memoir Radical Curiosity: My Life on the Age Wave.
A new aging normal
The Age Wave study, The New Age of Aging, found that 79% of adults aged 50 and over think today’s older adults are far more active, and 58% say they are more open-minded and curious compared with the previous generation.
The study’s findings reveal that the nation’s definition of what’s considered to be “old” is also dramatically changing. While age 60 was considered “old” in their grandparents’ day, now age 80 is the median age considered to be “old” today, the report’s authors researchers say, noting that with these changes, vocabulary is starting to shift, too. “Sixty-nine percent of U.S adults aged 50 and over find the term “longevity” more appealing to use than the term “aging. the survey found.
Eighty three percent of the respondents say it’s more important for them to feel “useful” and have a continued sense of purpose than striving for being “youthful” in their retirement years.
Life lessons are the most importance legacy we can leave before our passing, say the study report’s authors. “The study shows that 65% of adults 50+ think that values and life lessons are the most important thing to pass on to their heirs and loved ones. Only 22% said financial assets and/or real estate were the most important.
According to the report’s authors, with longevity, “anxiety plummets while happiness soars.” The study’s findings indicate that today’s older adults feel happier, freer, and less anxiety-ridden than younger generations. And they aren’t looking back, reflecting on the good old times. Seventy one percent say the best time of their lives is right now or in front of them, the findings indicate.
Today’s definition of “retirement” is also changing with the nation’s shift in the perception of growing old and the long-held cultural beliefs and social norms as how they are supposed to look and act. The study found that 97% of adults over age 65 agreed that it’s important to stay curious and be willing to learn new things throughout life’s later years. Similarly, 66% of Americans aged 50 and over see retirement as a new chapter in life, while only 16% say it’s principally a time for rest and relaxation.
Retirement is not just sitting on a rocking chair or taking trips. With increasing longevity and the nation’s changing views of retirement, 59% of pre-retirees and retirees say they want to work in some form in retirement, say the researchers, noting that employee benefits like flex-work, remote-work, sabbaticals, and paid leave can help retain these older workers.
Reflections on Age Wave’s new study
“Aging has finally come of age,” said Dychtwald. Workplaces, homes, medical systems, transportation, shopping centers, lifelong education, digital technology, and social media must all adapt to meet the demographic realities of this new age of aging,” he says.
Dychtwald sees a changing media’s marketing message is reflecting the nation’s changing perception of growing older.
In the 1990s, a client, Lou Gerstner, CEO of American Express, asked to see “all of the great 50+ oriented TV ads” being shown at that time. “Amazingly, on all of television, there were only four ads that featured anyone over 50. There was Mr. Whipple, who squeezed toilet paper in the supermarket. There was a gal named Clara Peller who was in a Wendy’s ad yelling, “Where’s the beef?” There was Mrs. Olson from Folgers Coffee. And then there’s our friend Wilford Brimley, who became the spokesperson for Quaker Oats,” remarked Dychtwald.
“Look at ads today and we see not only diversity, equity, and inclusion in terms of people’s racial and ethnic backgrounds, but also in terms of age and generations. We see multi-generational families. We see older people and younger people together. There’s no question that we’re entering what we set out to study—a new age of aging,” he says.
Dychtwald observes that a few powerful global forces are converging to create a new age of aging. “We had a bit of a backslide during COVID, but we are still living far longer than humans have ever lived before. “Throughout 99 % human history, the average life expectancy was under 18 years. At the start of the 20th Century, life expectancy in the U.S. was 47 years. Today it’s around 77, says the Age Wave Study.
However, the study also notes that for decades while lifespans have been extended, a person’s health span (i.e., the years of dependable good health) have not kept up, remaining at an age of 66 years. Americans will spend a median of 12 years living with a disability or serious disease. Looking globally, the U.S. ranks #1 in healthcare expenditures per capita but only #68 in healthy life expectancy.
Dychtwald calls for an integrated health care system. “If you’re the 60, or 70, or 80, or 90-year-old wandering through the health care system, it’s confusing. It’s like a bowl of spaghetti. You might have three doctors who don’t talk to each other, and you might have lots of different medications. And nobody’s ever really studied if you should be taking all those medications at the same time, what’s called polypharmacy. Further, it can be difficult knowing how to access a particular health care system, particularly if you’re of lower income or perhaps English is your second language. Or you may live in a rural community where health care is not easily accessible. That’s simply not fair. We ought to be able to create healthy longevity for everyone, he says.
The second global force that’s helping to create this new age of aging is declining fertility, notes Dychtwald. “There’s not one country in Europe that’s having enough kids to replace themselves. We’re near replacement level in the U.S., which is 2.1 kids per family. But that’s not enough for young people to balance out older people in our population,” he adds.
“Over the next 30 years, our 65 and over population is going to grow by 53%. The third global force that comes into play is younger generations replacing our new older population. “It’s not our grandmas or grandpas who are becoming the older people of today and tomorrow. It’s the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who have a big appetite for trying new things, and who think of this as a “third age” of life. It’s not necessarily a time to wind down, but maybe a time to try new things, to go back to school, to fall in love again. It’s a time to volunteer or get involved with your church or mosque or synagogue, or maybe to make new friends and maybe even make new friends across generations,” he says.
Capability Vs. Age in choosing political leaders
While Age Wave’s study didn’t gauge the older respondents views as to how they felt about older political leaders, Dychtwald has his personal views. Political leaders should be chosen because of their capacity to make decisions as well as their intelligence and decency as human beings., he says. “They may be 30, they may be 50, they may be 80. We’ve somehow turned a lot of our political races into a WrestleMania competition, where we make fun of people if they’re too short or if they move too slowly—if, they have extra body weight or they’re at a certain age,” he says.
“I think what’s more important is capability than age. But it is true that older people are more and more present in the political arena and running for or holding very high-level offices. And there’s some worry about that,” he says, asking these questions: “What happens if they stumble and fall? What happens if they have cognitive impairment? What happens if they don’t make the right decision?”
On behalf of Age Wave, the Harris Poll conducted an online, nationally representative survey among 2,054 U.S. adults ages 18+, including 934 adults ages 50+ from June 6-8, 2023. Results were weighted to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.
For a copy of Age Wave’s study report, The New Age of Aging, go to https://agewave.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/08-07-23-Age-Wave-The-New-Age-of-Aging-Report_FINAL.pdf.
To know more about Age Wave’s reports, studies, and polls and Ken Dychtwald’s new book Radical Curiosity: My Life on the Age Wave, go to: https://.AgeWave.com
Radical Curiosity: My Life on the Age Wave – by Ken Dychtwald, PhD – (Unnamed Press – September 12, 2023)
Has aging finally come of age? Due to elevating longevity and the aging of the Baby Boom generation, more than one third of all Americans are now over the age of 50. For the first time in history, many of them are continuing to flourish and work well past retirement age. At 80, President Joe Biden plans to run for re-election and would be 86 by the time his second term ended. At 81, Martha Stewart recently made a splash on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, while Bruce Springsteen sold out his world tour at 73. What does this mean for our society? Is 50 the new middlescence? Is 70 becoming the new 60? What contributions can older generations provide to society as they start to live longer and with more drive, perspective, and purpose than ever before?’
Founder of the Age Wave movement and a key player in the emergence of the Human Potential, Holistic Health, Eldercare and Healthy Aging and Longevity movements, Dr. Ken Dychtwald is the preeminent figure to speak on these issues. As a psychologist, gerontologist, author of 19 books, celebrated public speaker who’s given acclaimed talks to more than two million people worldwide, and successful entrepreneur whose client list has included over half the Fortune 500 list, Dychtwald is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts and visionary thinkers on longevity and aging, and he’s been helping people, companies and governments envision the future for decades.
Now, in his memoir Radical Curiosity: My Life on the Age Wave, he offers up the chance to foster a more intimate and meaningful dialogue on what it means to age in today’s changing world by taking a self-reflective look at his own life and what he’s learned both about growing up and the importance of leaving a legacy.
Dychtwald examines how curiosity has carried him through every era of his life, from his humble beginnings in Newark, New Jersey, to his years spent at Esalen in Big Sur during the pinnacle of the human potential movement, igniting the holistic health and healthy aging movements and the creation of his company Age Wave through a series of trials and errors. He shares stories and lessons from his own personal journey seeking and finding purpose (again and again), being caught between the Tao and the Dow, overcoming failure and loss, remarrying his wife 40 times, coping with aging and the death of loved ones and the primal role of loving relationships in one’s life.
As Dychtwald explores the arc and legacies of his life through fantastic stories, mind-stretching adventures and his unique encounters with an unusual and impressive cast of characters, readers will get a front row seat to his conversations and experiences with Presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as well as luminaries such as Betty Friedan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maggie Kuhn, Bucky Fuller, Nelson Mandela, and many more.
We are currently at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history. Just as the Women’s Movement and Sexual Revolution transformed gender and sexuality in America, we are now seeing a transformation for aging. This is a new era, and Dychtwald is the natural leader to usher it in. As no other memoir has done before, Radical Curiosity peels back the curtain on these new challenges and opportunities on aging and longevity as well as Dychtwald’s remarkable journey as a lifelong learner, father, husband, and sought-after thought leader. In doing so, he answers some of our nation’s most pressing questions about the future of longevity and aging, presents a guide to staying curious through all walks and stages of life, and offers a template for a life worth living.
To learn more about Age Wave’s reports, studies, and polls and Ken Dychtwald’s new book Radical Curiosity: My Life on the Age Wave, go to: http://agewave.com
About Ken Dychtwald PhD: As a psychologist, gerontologist, author of 19 books, celebrated public speaker and teacher, successful entrepreneur, documentary filmmaker and CEO of Age Wave, he has been helping people envision their own and the culture’s future for nearly five decades.
Herb Weiss, LRI -12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who has covered aging, health care and medical issues for over 43 years. To purchase his books, Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly and a sequel, compiling weekly published articles, go to herbweiss.com.
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