The Joy of Ageing

27th Mar, 2015

Yesterday morning’s Trajectory Trends Breakfast saw us try to tackle some of the issues surrounding our ageing population – a phrase that’s been around for so long and used in so many contexts that it has surely lost any impact on all but the most engaged in the field.

Of course this is far from a UK issue, it is a major global challenge for economies and societies around the world. In contrast to the negativity all too often surrounding the phenomenon we started the breakfast by quoting Professor Kirkwood in suggesting that enhanced longevity is the greatest achievement of humanity to date.

A central theme of the morning was that in a UK context the ageing trend is inseparable from the growth in diversity – especially ethnicity. This simple fact should serve to transform our understanding of our near future.

Put simply the old people of tomorrow will be very different from many of the old people of today. We highlighted that point with reference to the changing of the guard in terms of the generations with the Baby Boomers of the 60s onwards becoming the dominant body of our older population.

As you know the Baby Boomer generation has a whole different set of life experiences to draw upon including what could be seen as the birth of the consumer society. Just as we talk of Generation Y today as being defined by their experience of growing up with the internet so the Baby Boomers can be seen as the first generation born into a consumer society.

What does that mean? Well from our extensive experience of researching these audiences it means they are very much more demanding, have greater expectations and expect life to be delivered on their terms – up to and including the end-of-life as reflected in contemporary debates.

They have grown up with the decline of deference, are all too used to challenging authority and received wisdom, largely comfortable with the world of technology and its future promise (exemplified by the excitement of the 1960s space race), willing to take responsibility for their own futures and comfortable with the deregulation of life.

But of course such generalisations only take us so far, the most important take-away from the morning is that now is the time to really start to research and analyse this vast audience, segmenting them into different typologies and responding in kind.

The ageing society challenges practically all of the assumptions of the post-war consensus and our model of life – it creates new markets and opportunities but it demands a joined up multi-disciplinary approach exemplified by the New Dynamics of Ageing (NDA) project and their recently published NDA Handbook.

This is or should be a dream time to be involved in new product development, user experience testing, all aspects of digital service delivery and that perennial favourite – product packaging.

Challenging times most certainly, but fascinating to see how we might respond in the round and to consider what our future society may look like for all generations and peoples.