The Future Is Female & Instagram Grandma Has Her Game On

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Who is inventing the future of the longevity economy? The answer might surprise you.

What’s it feel like to discover that an 83-year-old woman has a better Instagram game than you do?

Really, it shouldn’t be surprising.

A recent New York Times article profiles a set of older women who have mastered the art of social media self-promotion and empowerment. They boast millions of followers, most of which are between the ages of 25 and 35. Some of them apparently have to fend off unwanted overtures from amorous men.

Unsurprisingly, they carry on the values and lifestyles that they cultivated in their younger days: “When I was young, we were burning our bras and promoting free love,” says 64-year-old professor and part-time model Lyn Slater. “We were getting high. Why would we accept the aging image of our mothers?”

 

These girls’ colorfulness, poise, and verve should tell us something very important about modern life: Old age is going to be very different for us than it was for our parents and grandparents. Mainly, it’s not going to look all that “old.”

Indeed, the new generation gap is about expectations – the next generation of older adults don’t simply expect to live longer, they expect to live better. And women are the lifestyle leaders inventing the new old age.

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These expectations are not just about aging Boomers expecting more, it is about a new expectation for all future generations of older adults.

I sent the New York Times article to a younger acquaintance of mine (who places a high value on Instagram presence) and she responded hopefully, “Maybe this means I’ll peak at 70!” The odds are actually pretty good that many of us -- especially women, who simply tend to age better -- will peak (and many just hitting their stride) right around then.

Despite the Malthusian doomsayers among us, we will be in better health than any past generation of older adults because we will be better able to manage whatever conditions we have. Note I did not say we will not be ill, that is, many of us will have a number of chronic conditions, e.g., hypertension, diabetes, asthma. I am suggesting, however, that with new technologies, medications and service interventions we may not necessarily be sick – or too sick to live a far more active life than previous generations.

Centuries ago Thomas Malthus said that humankind was doomed to overpopulate the planet and starve. While challenges are still ahead, Mr. Malthus, an early member of the dismal science club of economics, did not foresee innovations in agriculture and food logistics, just as today’s predictors of a gloomy future of old age are discounting advances in technology to manage chronic health diseases and go on to live rich and exciting lives. Tomorrow’s older adults will be in possession of far more sophisticated tools that will manage many aspects of overall wellbeing that go well beyond physical health.

One of those tools, yes, is Instagram, a way of connecting with other people, expressing oneself, and staying culturally engaged. The Insta-‘grams’ of Instagram might seem like a trifle, but they speak to far larger trends.

Technology is one of the key reasons why today’s old age will look very different from our parents’ and grandparents’ old age. Social media is only a piece of it. In future posts, I will write about how tech ecosystems like the sharing economy, artificial intelligence and the Internet-of-Things stand to change how we’ll live in an era of longevity.

We are so used to associating old age with an aversion to technology that the sight of grandmas crushing it on Instagram seems exotic – enough so for the Times to run a story on it. But that association comes from a bygone generation, one that came of age in a very different era, and should no longer be applied to the upcoming cadre of older adults.

Here’s a compelling nugget from the same Times article. In a small-scale survey of women over 50, 73 percent of participants said that they “hate the way their generation is patronized when it comes to technology.” And six out of 10 say they find technology “fascinating.”

I’ve long been trumpeting the need for businesses to more actively cater toward the older female consumer. She is the lifestyle leader and chief consumer officer of not just households but an entire demographic wave.

As a demographic entity, she is far savvier, more active, and more affluent than she is given credit for. Consider this, women, particularly middle aged and older women –

  • Control more than 60% of wealth in United States
  • Account for approximately 85% of consumer purchases
  • Make nearly 90% of all health purchase decisions (who chose your doctor or went to the pharmacy last?)
  • Influence or directly purchase over 60% of all automobiles
  • Buy nearly 70% of consumer computers

I have more statistics in my book The Longevity Economy (see Chapter 3) demonstrating that “The Future Is Female”. But a photo of one of these glamorous grandmas is worth more than a thousand stats. That’s the power of stories in shaping our perception of the world. They might be exceptional, but they tell us something universal about life tomorrow.