This year, the oldest of the Baby Boomers turn 65, signaling this powerful generational cohort’s entry into a new phase of life—retirement. As Boomers come to retirement age, there has been a lot of talk about what the future holds for them.
The sociologist in me was curious. My Karten Design Research colleagues and I have done quite a few usability studies that included people 65 and older. We’ve learned that, as people age, they have different physical needs due to conditions like arthritis, diminished tactility and deteriorating vision. But they also have different emotional needs than younger demographics.
While the physical needs of older Americans are likely to be the same from generation to generation, I suspect that emotional needs differ based on the experiences that have shaped each generation and the collective experiences they face in their later years. I wanted to evaluate the key differences between today’s older Americans (the GI generation born before WW2) and the next generation, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964).
I recently completed some research about trends that may define what I’m calling “elderly of the future,” and observed the trends that will likely affect Boomers as they age. Here are just a few.
Working Longer: For a generation that started defining who they are by what they do, it should come as no surprise that 40% of Boomers currently in the workforce intend to “work until [they] drop,” according to a study by the AARP. Thanks to advances in health and health care, Boomers are living longer and working longer to support themselves. Compounding this trend is the fact that many Boomers had their children later in life, meaning that children are still living at home with them, or enrolled in expensive schools as they enter retirement age.
Higher Education Levels: Boomers are also more educated than any previous generation. In 2030, experts predict that 83% of the senior population will have at least a high school diploma, compared to 67% of seniors in 1998. Because of their education, Boomers are more technologically savvy than previous generations, and they’re embracing new ideas such as alternative and preventative medicine.
Adventure: Through every stage in their life, Baby Boomers have re-invented social norms. Expect retirement to be no different. Boomers are more open to non-traditional living arrangements. They are also seeking non-traditional travel itineraries, and have more disposable income with which to pursue their aspirations than previous generations.
These trends have important implications for product manufacturers and designers. Older people do not like being singled out and do not want products to visibility be designed differently. Educated, independent Boomers, who have begun adapting technology, are not going to want products that are ”dumbed down” versions of things they’ve used for years. We have to design products that will make sense for them, meeting their needs not only physically, but mentally/psychologically as well.
Essentially, we will need to re-evaluate the way we think of older Americans and about our target end users in general. For example, with an older workforce, products for working people will need to consider a wider age range and make Boomers feel comfortable and confident continuing their careers into late life. At stake is not only a company’s ability to sell products, but the opportunity to create a better experience for the 78 million Boomers entering a new stage of life over the next 20 years.