By Kateryna Yavorska-Vietrova
When I first came in for my co-op interview with Pat Spadafora, the Director of the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, I was definitely excited for all the new opportunities, but I was also very anxious. I was about to start working on the Business of Aging Network, but honestly, I had less than a vague idea about what that would mean.
Before the first week at the Centre, my understanding of older adults was, in a way, representative of the beliefs of “an average Canadian”. I would imagine a typical granny – retired, spending her time gardening, solving crossword puzzles and cooking something delicious for the grandkids from an old hand-written recipe book. My biggest question was, what does business have to do with it?
The answer is – everything. The research that I had a chance to be involved in with the Centre has truly opened my eyes on the issue. In reality, older adults not only represent
a significant proportion of the population (according to Statistics Canada seniors accounted for a record high of 14.8% of the population in 2011, up from 13.7% five years earlier), but also possess a great amount of untapped buying power. It is truly unthinkable that such an opportunity is missed by many businesses all across the country. To be more specific, I am not talking about the pharmacies or retirement homes – the growing older adult market is important for any industry. We are about to face a whole new generation of mature consumers, who can be reached and heard (!) online. This is the age of grandparents’ Skyping with their children, posting comments and sharing stories on Facebook and reaching out to businesses through online feedback.
The change can be seen not just in communications, but also in the needs and interests of older adults. One of my personal favourite industries to look at is technology. For instance, if we look at the United States, 68% of the population in their early 70s go online, and 55% have broadband at home. Of those older adults (65+) who use the Internet, 71% go online every day or almost every day. (Pew Research Center). These numbers reveal an interesting truth about today’s mature shoppers – they could be looking to upgrade their smartphone, they likely know how to use a tablet, they may be buying new apps or setting up a Netflix subscription. Of course, it would be unwise to generalize and assume that any 70-year-old is a tech-pro, but the statement that older adults are unwilling to accept technology is definitely turning into a myth.
I also wanted to point out that, as a result of limited Canadian data, I used findings from
a US poll earlier in my post. The fastest growing segment of the population is critically overlooked. In fact, many consumer surveys, when it comes to age, would simply put everyone over age 65+ together in one group. This approach is destined to fail, as practice shows that the experience of being 66 is much different from being 81 or 95. Categorizing all these individuals as one group will skew the results and hide many important insights into preferences and behaviour. Moreover, society has been so blind
to its aging demographic, that an astonishing amount of comments in the survey results from older adults I read say “I feel invisible” and “I am often ignored”. These are all individuals who are willing to be active; many of them have money to spend and all of them have needs and wants that businesses are not even aware of.
I wanted to conclude this post by saying that the Business of Aging is, in fact, about everyone. It is no longer an exclusive club of healthcare providers and pharmacists – aging today has so many shapes and forms that any industry from technology to recreation, from education to housing will feel its effects. Growing older can mean so many different things, and that is why many consumers look for holistic solutions. Collaboration between companies is now not just an opportunity, but sometimes a necessity for survival.
I have been lucky to work with the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research for almost a year, and it was a transformative experience that gave me a new understanding of aging. I am excited to bring the views and values I learned here forward in my career.
Kateryna Yavorska-Vietrova has been a student research assistant at the Centre for Elder Research since May 2015. Kateryna will be receiving her degree from the Global Business Management program this April.