How are the world’s new Perennials changing popular notions of what it means to be old?
By Henrietta Thompson
As brands grow up with their aging demographic, and a new generation of later lifers make their demands heard, there’s no better time to be a septo-octo- or nonagenarian, and beyond…
In 2002 the Economist ran an impactful story, ‘Over 60 and overlooked’, in which it wondered why the commercial world was so ‘obsessed with youth’. Now, almost 15 years later, it looks like we may finally be rounding that corner. Not only are the old stereotypes surrounding old age on their way out, but businesses are advancing their offering to better suit those of advancing years too. The message is clear: Move over Millennials, the future belongs to those with the spending power: we are witnessing the rise of the Perennials.
Though there are exceptions, today’s working age youth are famously the first generation that is set to be worse off financially than their parents. Meanwhile humans are living longer than ever before. A baby born in 2016 can expect to live to around 80 (male) or 83 (female) - far longer lives than their ancestors – and meanwhile our later life stages are fitter and healthier than ever.
It’s a shift that’s been a long time coming, with advertisers struggling to find the right language. While it’s been very clear that the world’s population has been growing older, greyer and significantly richer than ever before, marketers’ messaging has focused on denial and discretion. Fifty has been the new forty for a decade, after all.
Auriens, set to open in 2019 in Chelsea is a chic luxury development of residences for ‘later lifers’. Other locations (New York, LA etc) will soon follow across the world. Placing excellent design on a par with next level attention – everything is top of the range, and that has also meant reconsidering the language they use around later life. Here you won’t find sensitive talk of end-of-life care or patronising ‘assisted living’. While the medical attention and technology is best-in-class, at Auriens “vintage vitality” is something to aspire to, and charm, wit, style and entertainment are prioritised. There will be a cocktail bar at Auriens, and it’ll be called ‘Zimmer’. If Bugatti made starlifts and Aston Martin made mobility scooters, this is where you’d find them – in the heart of London’s busiest shopping district with culture on tap.
The 21st century’s silver surfers are not in the market for cruise holidays, elasticated waists and beige hearing aids, says Johnny Sandleson, Auriens’ cofounder. Not for them the doomed domesticity of a care home. “Our customers have grown to have higher expectations from a lifestyle, and that doesn’t stop suddenly with another candle on the cake. Cash rich, time rich, and often still very fit – the baby boomer generation make life look like something to aspire to.”
Luxury “retirement villages” are booming around the world. Also in London Battersea Place is an ageful community complete with concierge service, spa, heated indoor pool, gym, billiard room, private cinema. The price of a home is £1m (plus membership fees) and up, part of which of course covers the on-site nursing staff, full-time care manager and 24hr care on demand.
It would not be surprising if global hospitality chains and luxury members clubs soon began expanding their offering to retirement retreats too. What would growing old look like courtesy of a brand like the Soho House Group or Aman Resorts? Certainly the term “infinity pool” starts to take on a whole new meaning… Of course if they do, there would be worse places to launch than Switzerland, the country consistently ranks top in the Global Retirement Index (GRI) for its high quality of life.
To those with an eye on the “grey pound” (and seeing sterling silver) it is also vital to realise that tomorrow’s swelling population of septo-octo-nonagenarians (and beyond) are very different from today’s. Not only are they likely to be more discerning than ever, but even the very notion of retirement is due a rethink.
London Business School professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott point out in their new book, “The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity” that instead of the three stages of education-work-retirement, we may soon be living seven or eight stages. Just as teenagers were “created” in the 20th century with mass education, and the gap between childhood and working, so longer lives will create new life stages.
In this new era of longer lives, the answers are changing dramatically to questions which previously were obvious, such as: what’s the best age to have children? When should I retire? When should I settle down? Thanks to technologies such as egg-freezing and better medicine there’s not so much of a rush. According to cultural commentator Catherine Mayer, we are actually an age of “amortality” when people live agelessly. In the near future people “will rarely ask themselves if their behaviour is age appropriate because that concept has little meaning for them”.
The Age of No Retirement is an organisation and network with a simple goal: To create a world where age does not matter. Inspired by Dr Jonathan Collie and Georgina Lee as a result of their collaboration on Trading Times, an award-winning social enterprise that connects skilled over 50s with local employers for the purposes of flexible, part-time paid work, the Age of No Retirement was set up as a campaign to help break down age barriers and stereotypes in the workplace. “From technology to health; from education to architecture; from work to leisure, we are embracing intergenerational collaboration and thinking – to create new products, new services, new campaigns, new mindsets, new rules and new behaviours,” they say. It’s time to challenge the narrative of division and difference and create a new age of unity and hope where our age, younger or older, does not matter. “We have opportunities to develop lifestyles in 'retirement' unknown and beyond belief to those living in the 19th and early 20th centuries.” Nobody ought to need bifocals to see that.
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