To borrow a phrase from Charles Dickens, it’s now the best of times and the worst of times for seniors in Canada. On the one hand, Canadians over 65 today are wealthier and healthier than any generation that came before them. They can expect to live longer and to be active well past the traditional retirement age. This certainly promises the best of times for seniors.
And yet, on the other hand, being a senior can also bring the worst of times. Not because of a lack of wealth or health, but because of ageism — the most socially acceptable form of discrimination in Canada. Research shows that an astonishing 25 per cent of Canadians — from Gen Y to Boomers — admit they have treated someone differently because of their age. That means seniors are treated differently not because of what they can accomplish or what they can contribute, not because of who they are or what they like, but simply because they are older.
And that’s not OK. We need a strategy to change attitudes toward seniors.
Tackling ageism will require a sustained effort from governments, organizations and individuals. It requires answering big questions about our social and health-care supports, about our policies for older workers, about the physical environment of our cities, about our enabling technologies, about our accessible transportation options, and so much more.
Creating workplaces that welcome older workers is critical.
So, where to begin? I think it’s best to start with what you know, and as the CEO of a leading owner, operator and investor in the senior living sector committed to helping older adults live life to the fullest, and someone with almost 30 years of experience working in the private sector, what I know is the world of business.
I believe there is enormous potential for Canadian businesses to lead social change and help end ageism. Through inclusive human resources policies, for example, we can transform the workforce from ageist to age-inclusive. Creating workplaces that welcome older workers is critical.
Equally important is recognizing that seniors are a market that wants and needs products that will help make the aging process easier. For years businesses have been focused on innovation targeted to young consumers with the belief that young people are a bigger market with more disposable income and a propensity to spend.
But if you think about the collective buying power of people over 65, it becomes clear that this is an attractive market worthy of attention. From health-care products to technology products to apparel and footwear to in-home services, there is an abundance of opportunity for businesses to find innovative new products and offerings that meet the needs of older Canadians.
We are at a pivotal point in the evolution of Canada’s, and the world’s, demographic makeup. According to Statistics Canada, for the first time ever, there are more Canadians aged 65 and older than there are children under the age of 14. The United Nations says that, by 2030, the number of older persons worldwide will jump by 56 per cent, from 901 million to more than 1.4 billion.
Yes, that’s 1.4 billion.
I strongly believe that Canada’s business community can transform the aging experience for the better for our seniors today, and in the future. We simply need a new point of view on aging — one where we see older Canadians as the vibrant, active, interested and excited to live life to the fullest.
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Author: Thomas G. Wellner