It’s Time to Cater to the Over-65 Crowd, Or Else!

Businesses can’t afford to ignore the fastest growing market in the world. Here’s how businesses shoot themselves in the foot with these valuable employees and customers (and by the way, don’t call them “seniors” or “elderly,” either).

Happy women with long white hair blowing in the wind
(Image credit: Getty Images)

“There is a huge market – millions of people – that could be a missed opportunity for American business,” says author Susan Golden, who teaches at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and is considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the impact of longevity on our economy.

So, who are these people?

“The U.S. Census tells us they are the 10,000 people turning 65 every day. In the time it takes to read this sentence, another 20 will join that group. More importantly, in 15 years, Americans aged 65 and older will outnumber those under age 18,” she points out.

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In her book, Stage (Not Age) How to Understand and Serve People Over 60 (opens in new tab)The Fastest Growing, Most Dynamic Market in the World, she urges American businesses to understand the importance of paying attention to groups of adults pursuant to their stage in life – not their age – and to discover where they are, what they are doing, their needs and desires.

“The objective of business must be to provide the products and services they need and want,” she underscores.

Major mistakes businesses make in an aging world

Stage (Not Age) is a fascinating read, and it makes clear that missteps can be costly. I sat down with her, and she gave a by-the-numbers list of the mistakes – the flawed thinking, what not to do – that the American business community needs to be aware of and avoid.

1. Don’t think of older adults as one market and aging as a problem.

Why is this flawed thinking? Our aging population is anything but a problem to business leaders who see the market potential in people over 60 who are in fact a deeply diverse population. They are traveling through different life stages, want and need different products and services.

2. Don’t look at all people as only going through three stages in life: Education, Work and Retirement.

Why is this flawed reasoning? Today, we are living century-long lives. We will have much longer employment spans, which will integrate career breaks for continuous learning opportunities and for caregiving.

Notions of working just so you can retire will be replaced with the goal of having a purpose in your community, not merely sitting back and watching television. As we live long, and retain the ability of being productive and contribute to society, fewer of us will consider leisure as a goal in itself.

Therefore, business must consider the population as having multi-stage lives that will not be defined by age and will produce a wealth of new business opportunities.

3. Don’t fail to develop user-friendly, age-focused products and services to help extend “health span” as opposed to life span.

Consequences: It is essential, faced with this ever-increasing population of older people, to design products with a multi-generation perspective. Those who only have a “one-size-fits-all” approach or only target the 18- to 34-year-old demographic will lose business. One good example is Oxo kitchen utensils. They are great for all ages, but they were designed with ease of use for older people. BMW modified their dashboards to fit the needs of older drivers, which also benefit those who are younger.

4. Don’t fail to develop a longevity strategy for your employees.

Consequences: You will lose good people. Employees will have a 60-year career span. Employers need to integrate upskilling opportunities, continuous learning, career breaks and financial planning assistance. Companies will potentially have five generations working for them. It will be a family who have been with the company for decades, enriching the bottom line.

5. Don’t think of your customers and employees as “elderly” or as “seniors.”

This is flawed thinking that minimizes their value! Embrace the new narratives around aging versus the simple concept of old. As our population ages, retaining physical and mental health, it is best to think of them as living a vibrant life. Call it, “furtherhood,” going further into new and productive stages of their lives.

6. Don’t be an ageist in hiring or in the workplace.

That includes showing bias against older job applicants, failing to consider the dignity of your older employees or job applicants or refusing to support programs to promote health and longevity for older workers.

Consequences: Not only is ageism the last acceptable “ism” out there, bias against older applicants or employees is an engraved invitation to finding yourself as a defendant in an age-discrimination lawsuit.

7. Don’t fail to support caregiving needs and refuse to offer paid family leave for all your employees.

Results? Expect enormous turnover. Unhappy employees. If you do, you will lose the institutional knowledge and creativity that comes with people who are familiar with your business strategy, its needs and abilities.

8. Don’t establish a rigid obligatory retirement age for all employees.

Consequences: You will lose the opportunity to harness their wisdom and creativity that comes with it. This is the perfect recipe for hostility. Instead, realize that some employees might like the idea of greater flexibility on time commitments and want to remain employed.

The better approach is to help employees reset life priorities, repurpose the direction of their lives and transition into new opportunities within the company and externally.

An insightful employer should consider the older employees as moving into renaissance years where they have the ability to bring creative ideas to the floor with wisdom and experience.

How Age + Wisdom Encourages Entrepreneurship

We concluded our interview with Susan’s encouraging, optimistic view of the future:

“Research shows that the most successful companies – outside of tech – are those that are started by people 55 and older. Twenty-five percent of new entrepreneurs are 55 to 64. It is an area that is simply exploding! We are hearing terms such as ‘olderpreneurs and seniorpreneurs.’

“This amazing group of older Americans – who have decades of practical work experience under their belts – are wonderfully situated to go out on their own, and they are doing it! People 55 or older owned 43% of the country’s small businesses in 2020. Their success rate is far higher than that of the typical new venture, which has a 11.1% rate of failure in the first year compared to founders who are 60 plus, who have only an 8.2% failure rate (according to JPMorgan Chase Institute research).

“They are going to surprise us all in wonderful ways!”

In my opinion, Stage (Not Age) is a must-read for those CEOs who see the future as part of their business life today.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.
Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law (opens in new tab)." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."