Spanning the Shift


Thinking Long and Hard About Longevity

Age-based retirement arbitrarily severs productive persons from their livelihood,
squanders their talents, scars their health, strains an already overburdened Social Security system,
and drives many elderly people into poverty and despair.  Ageism is as odious as racism and sexism.

- Norman Vincent Peale

by Bernard Starr

When a well-known paint company wanted to change its image after expanding into home accessory stores it did a media blitz: "It ain't just paint."  The longevity revolution desperately needs a similar slogan to unhinge it from its image: "It ain't just Medicare and Social Security."

The explosion in life expectancy that many scientists believe will make 100-year lifespans commonplace over the next decades is more than a numbers game of a growing army of older people needing more of this and less of that.  It's a genuine revolution that will dramatically transform life on this planet.  Like the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and other giant leaps, the longevity revolution will usher in fundamental changes in the way we live, love, work and play.  It will also have vast implications for productivity, consumption, spending and the overall fate of business and the economy.

Age makes a difference.  It changes our philosophical outlook on life, death, religion, spirituality and values.  Meaning and quality of life issues often move to centre stage the longer one lives.  And older adults have particular needs, and interests.  Tastes in music, art, fashion, entertainment and every other aspect of culture and daily living differ from one generation to the next.  Some say older people are more politically conservative and not keen on radical changes — and most come out to vote.  But in fact, we know very little about how greatly extended lifespans will play out.  Will added years mean healthy, happy and meaningful lives?  Will longevity disrupt some of our cherished social institutions such as marriage and the family?

"Hi honey, I'm home" has a different ring to it when it means home for the next half a century.  Are the growing statistics on divorce after 25 years of marriage telling us something?  What about the fate of the very old?  Will they be warehoused, kept alive, if even by a thread, with our incredible medical technology?  If so, what strains will that impose on society and families?  And which business sectors will flourish, flounder, or die in an ageing society?

No small matters.  Yet there's virtually no planning as politicians continue to be mired down by "third rail politics" — we can't even move reform of Medicare and Social Security off the perpetual drawing board.  And despite the fact that older adults will soon be the largest age group in society, we continue to be youth-oriented.  There are no better examples of our firmly entrenched youth culture than in advertising and the media.  One striking example is radio.  Hardly any stations acknowledge listeners over age 64 according to listings in the Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook.  A few small stations offer nostalgic music for a 50-plus audience, but typically stations say their listeners range up to 49.  Some admit up to age 54 and fewer to 64 — but that's the top.  Yet a "Radio World" survey revealed that all talk and news formats have largely older listeners.

Television networks routinely cancel shows that appeal to a 50-plus audience.  "Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman" was cancelled while shows with lower ratings were renewed.  "CBS whines, 'Quinn' attracted too many older viewers for whom advertisers pay nothing," says Mike Drew of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  These programming decisions dismiss the financial clout of the 50-plus crowd that holds over 75% of all liquid money assets.  For the media, the 34 million Americans over age 64 (a number greater than the entire population of Canada, or the combined total populations of Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong) range from invisible to non-existent.

Less important than accuracy is the persistent underlying assumption that older audiences have no appeal to advertisers.  If the media believed that older adults were real consumers, they would insist that most of their audiences are over 64 — and be closer to the truth.  Dick Lee of High Yield Marketing did a study showing that advertising industry professionals are most comfortable advertising to 30 - 39 year olds.  And big surprise, the mid 30s is precisely the median age of advertising personnel, with the next largest group of employees in their 20s.  Savvy marketing experts who track older consumers say the ad agencies are dead wrong in their stereotypes — and dead may be the apt metaphor for companies left in the dust chasing a shrinking youth market with few bucks.

If we took the longevity revolution seriously, every sector of the economy would be redirecting its sights on the older consumer.  That means new products, new designs, new pitches, and most important, fresh research to find out who they are.  But it's not happening.  Ron Romano, the legendary former Executive Creative Director at Ted Bates Advertising Agency, says: "The romance with youth is as strong as ever.  The industry always has a steady inflow of young employees because ad people burn out quickly.  When they start bleeding red ink they'll have an awakening.  There's no morality in advertising, but there is a reality — and it's all about money."

What these musings add up to is the potential for the Longevity Revolution to turn our society on its heels — economically, politically, and socially.  We should heed the advice of Paul Kleyman of the American Society on Ageing: "Wake up and smell the demographics" — and what you'll be smelling ain't just paint.

Bernard Starr is a psychologist/gerontologist at Marymount Manhattan College.  He is also host of the radio program "The Longevity Report" and is Longevity Report Columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.  He can be reached at

Source: © and Scripps Howard 29 July 1998

Want another view?  How about "Infertile humans (which would include post-menopausal women and men who have had vasectomies) are not even alive."  [Possibly that would mean they can no longer vote, however neither would they be required to pay taxes?]  See Living Dead: Ants and Infertile Humans Are Not Alive, but Parasitic DNA Is, According to a New, Universal Definition of Life.  Have new reproductive technologies breathed life into millions of "technically dead" people by allowing them a means (given enough money) to reproduce though they would normally be considered infertile?  The "given enough money" part could be important - does this mean only the infertile rich are truly alive?  (Buying a lottery ticket could take on a whole new meaning...)

Longevity Key in Chromosome

Britain - The key to why women generally live longer than men may be their double X chromosomes, according to New Scientist magazine.  Unlike men, women have two X chromosomes which produce slightly different cell lines - which can behave differently - and could give women a biological edge over men.  Scandinavian researchers said women's bodies may be able to choose the more vigourous line switching off one of the X chromosomes during the course of their lives to improve their survival. - Reuters

Source: The Evening Post 6 April 2000

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