What if 60 were the new 40? The economy is starting to recognize the mature age group as an increasingly attractive market given its youthful consumption capacity, in addition to the added value of the need for care services. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fundación MAPFRE’s Ageingnomics Research Center presented its latest findings in a seminar that can be viewed online.
TEXT: ÁNGEL MARTOS IMÁGENES: ISTOCK
The American magazine Allure is one of the most important publications in the beauty world. It is published by Condé Nast, the same editorial group responsible for the prestigious magazine Vogue, focused more on fashion. Allure splashed a message across the cover of its September 2017 issue that stunned the beauty industry: the term anti-age was no longer welcome on its pages. “We asked people to reflect on this and consider why we attribute a negative connotation to something so completely natural,” wrote its editor Michelle Lee. “No, not everything related to ageing is necessarily wonderful, but the chance to grow old indeed is; it’s not something to fight against.”
The statement also became a wake-up call for the beauty industry, which in Spain alone moves eight billion euros; it also reflected what had been murmured for some time, but was turning into a thunderous roar that we could sum up in one phrase: ageing is not so bad. In recent years the brands have dramatically turned their backs on those messages that made us view every wrinkle discovered in the mirror as a personal failure; they are now building a new narrative, both positive and realistic, that the marketing geniuses have dubbed proageing.
This neologism defines all those healthcare and well-being products and treatments “that help us discover the best version of ourselves, whatever that might mean to each of us,” according to Paul Jarrod Frank, dermatologist of singer Madonna, among other celebrities, in his book The Pro- Ageing Playbook. And whatever the name of the moisturizing cream that makes us feel better, the truth is that this empowering approach to the inevitable act of growing old – indeed, ever older – seems to have been creatively permeating the full range of products and services that comprise and nourish the mature market ecosystem.
It is precisely in this spirit that Fundación MAPFRE created the Ageingnomics Research Center, with this portmanteau created from a contraction of ‘ageing’ and ‘economics’ coined by MAPFRE and Deusto Business School to define this concept. Its overriding aim is to extend an optimistic view of the demographic evolution, based on the economic and social opportunities provided by this ageing of the population. “Surprisingly, this increased life expectancy, which constitutes one of the major achievements of humanity, has been repeatedly treated in public debates as a phenomenon with essentially negative consequences,” Juan Fernández Palacios, CEO of MAPFRE Vida, admitted during the first academic seminar on ageing held in December 2020 by the Ageingnomics Research Center, within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The emphasis was placed on the destabilizing impact on the pension system and the associated increased costs of healthcare or dependent adult care services… We believe this is an incomplete, biased vision that we need to remedy,” Fernández Palacios declared. The fact is that this medical miracle of longevity is increasingly associated with an improvement in the quality of life for people who, until very recently, were considered lucky to have lived beyond retirement age.
The rejuvenation of our society
This is what Adela Cortina, a 74-year-old Emeritus Professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy at the University of Valencia, calls “rejuvenation” of our societies: “The world is not ageing, but rather rejuvenating […] In fact, at the same age, any of us are in much better shape than our grandparents were.” Her masterful lecture on the ethics of ageing in times of pandemic managed to resolve that cold, distant impression imposed by the obligatory online encounter, offering us fascinating ideas and emotions. Sprinkled with powerful statements (“treating old age as a disease is humbug”), she focused her intervention on denouncing gerontophobia and ageism, so rampant in our societies. “Unmasking gerontophobia” was precisely the title of an article of hers published in the Spanish daily El País last July and which had huge repercussion on social media.
“The elderly are not unproductive,” Cortina affirms. “Firstly, because they continue to consume, but also because they are sometimes the ones who now have the economic means to consume. Grandparents are a wonderful resource for looking after the grandchildren when parents have to go out to work, etc. Were it not for the solidarity of many pensioners, many families would have been totally incapable of surviving at all.” A description of the silver economy, as defined by the OECD, with which Ignacio Baeza, first vice chairman of the Fundación MAPFRE Board of Trustees, concurs and expands with further data: “The elderly in Spain have stable incomes, given that they benefit from the safety net provided by the welfare state in the form of a public pension, in addition to any savings they may have. Ninety percent of them are homeowners and I don’t believe any other country in the world comes close to that figure, and 75 percent are unencumbered i.e. mortgage-free.”
These figures are drawn from the 1st Seniors Consumption Barometer published by the Ageingnomics Research Center and confirm that Spain is the European country that could lead a global strategy to explore new economic niches stemming from this increased life expectancy. There is a full range of opportunities arising from the economic and social impact of the activities carried out and demanded by the over- 55 population. This already represents 25 percent of the European GDP, but will account for 37.8 percent of all jobs by 2025. “It’s striking how many companies and groups prefer to target young people with their messages, despite the evidence that the purchasing power lies mainly with the silver generation,” stress the study’s directors, the aforementioned Juan Fernández Palacios and Iñaki Ortega Cachón. In fact, this barometer confirms that 56 percent of senior consumers – a population segment with ages ranging from close to 60 up to 75 – are capable of saving something each month, and 60 percent feel at ease in the face of economic uncertainty, claiming that their situation will not worsen in the next few years.
It’s striking how many companies and groups prefer to target young people with their messages, despite the evidence that the purchasing power lies mainly with the silver generation
The seminar organized by the Ageingnomics Research Center revealed the wealth of proposals and ideas for products and services ready for a market filled with opportunities and apt for the startup business model. Seven projects were presented there, selected by the scientific committee made up of representatives from Fundación MAPFRE, Deusto Business School and independent experts. Most noteworthy were initiatives targeting particularly vulnerable groups, representing a major step forward compared to previous experiences in the field of the ageing economy.
The pandemic: a stress test
These are projects which, in most cases, are born out of a publicprivate collaboration, responding to needs discovered or confirmed by university research. The new technologies offer the first – but not the only – response to the challenges posed by this demographic evolution. In this sense, the pandemic has been – and, indeed, is – a global human tragedy, but also an unexpected stress test that has exposed the weaknesses of a system stretched to the limit of its capacity. It has forced many sectors to skip forward several years and accelerate the digitization of processes previously only seen as future trends, such as the already commonplace teleworking model, now affecting millions of people. The current situation provides a tremendous setting for the proposals presented at the seminar, which precisely take full advantage of the power of technology to enhance our seniors’ quality of life. Thus, thanks to Jésica de Armas Adrián (University of Barcelona/Pompeu Fabra University), and her study on the incidence of COVID-19 cases in the city of Barcelona, we have learned about “the advantages of home care over nursing homes when it comes to infectious diseases.” Javier Isaac Lera Torres (University of Cantabria/IDIVAL) wondered how we could improve long-term care for senior citizens. And Andrés Losada Baltar (King Juan Carlos University) highlighted the need to protect the people acting as caregivers.
In the field of business innovation, there were outstanding projects such as Ubikare, by Nerea Amenábar, a comprehensive home health and care service for elderly and/ or dependent people and their families. Beatriz Santamaría Trincado presented Bizipoz, an active training and social participation program aimed at people over the age of 55 to promote growing old in an active, healthy manner. It highlights the need to make retirement a transition process and not a leap into the abyss, with the help of companies. María González Manso explained exactly what Tucuvi is – a virtual assistant for monitoring senior citizens and chronic patients in their home. And Román Vilares, from Inbizi Healthcare, presented Noa, an automatic, programmable drug dispenser connected to telecommunications networks, which enables control of the precise dosage of medicines and wireless communication with the caregiver.
All of these projects radiate economic optimism even in times of COVID-19 and yet they have to fight against the discriminatory attitudes prevalent in our society. “During the pandemic, negative notions that already existed, such as gerontophobia and ageism, come to the fore even stronger,” Adela Cortina stresses. 20 years ago she coined the term aporophobia to define rejection of the poor and this professor knows that discrimination of the most vulnerable is universal. For this reason, she has again turned to the power of words to shed light on social fears, in this case gerontophobia – or rejection of the elderly – and ageism, a term coined by Robert Butler in 1969 to define discrimination on the basis of age. Cortina proposes fighting them decisively, “because they are immoral, demeaning to human dignity and not very intelligent.” “We must take advantage of people until the end, all they have to offer, and we must do all we possibly can to create the best societies,” Adela Cortina goes on, “we’re surely not going to set aside 30 percent of the population, simply because we’ve decided that, at the age of 65, everything changes radically and these people are not capable of anything.”
Instead, the professor advocates the concept of “personal age”: “This is a combination of our biological age – which is the particular, unique, unrepeatable life process for each of us – our chronological age, determined implacably by the calendar, and our social age, which is what societies typically lay down in a traditional manner and order, using conventional milestones such as retirement.” Are we starting to see glimpses of a new revolution, on this occasion related to age? Social critical mass exists: by 2050, 35 percent of the Spanish population will be over 65 years old. One third of us will be old, there is no denying it. And given the demographic evolution of Western societies, many of them will not be parents – nor, therefore, grandparents – at least in the traditional blood relative sense. Adela Cortina advocates that the various age groups “should increasingly join up” and encourages activities in which they get together, “as they can then learn from each other in a mutually enriching process.” How this can be achieved will emerge, in part, from the ageingnomics specialty created by MAPFRE and the Deusto Business School.
It is firmly rooted in one of those conscience-stirring phrases uttered by a Nobel Prize laureate, in this case the economist Amartya Sen, who views economics as the art of creating good societies: equitable wealth creation by eradicating poverty, and reducing unjust inequalities.
Ageing, economy and COVID-19
The 2020 Academic Seminar on Ageing and COVID-19 was organized with the aim of advancing the frontier of knowledge regarding the relationship between the ageing population and the economy, within a context characterized by the impact of COVID-19.
The objective was to learn about initiatives, both academic works and actual projects or experiences, whether completed or at an advanced development stage.
The thematic areas dealt with economics, ageing and COVID-19, in such specific areas as:
- Care and social health assistance.
- New work models.
- Urban and territorial transformation.
- Public-private collaboration.
- Business and territorial productivity.
- Organizational and digital transformation.
- Welfare state.
- Innovation, entrepreneurship and business opportunities.
The seminar paid special attention to projects which, in this pandemic scenario, offer real solutions to the economic challenges posed by the ageing population.