Interview with Maddy Dychtwald
What is the “age wave”?
At the heart of the age wave is the fact that people are living longer and better than at any other time in history. We are on the cusp of a longevity revolution that is dramatically altering who we are, how we live and work, how companies do business and who they target. It impacts each and every one of us personally as well as the communities and the industries that serve us. Standard & Poor’s report, Global Aging, emphatically states that “no other force is likely to shape the future of national economic health, public finances and policy-making” more than the global aging of the population. The age wave definitely has arrived and is transforming us in ways we may never have imagined.
Are we really living that much longer?
Throughout most of human history, average life expectancy was under the age of 18. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it had increased to about age 47. By the end of the twentieth century, life expectancy soared to, on average, age 78…and even higher in some countries. That means that each of us has already been given a longevity bonus of more than 30 years, in just a 100 year span of time. With impending breakthroughs in medicine and biotechnology, it seems likely that longevity may continue to rise. Some of the questions we might be asking include “how will I use this longevity bonus,” “does it make sense to retire at age 65,” “what products and services will long-lived adults really need?”
What does this mean for us?
It’s truly staggering to think about the implications of long life. We have designed our world to match the size and the shape of who we have been, and, until now, most of us have been young. So simple things like how we define “old” will be redefined; the typefaces in our adverts will need to be easier to read; doorknobs will be replaced by door levers for ease of use; the time it takes for a traffic light to change will need to be slowed; our cars will need to be ergonomically designed for the aging body and reflexes; clothing will need to be fashionable and functional for aging bodies; exercise equipment will need to be designed for the changing movement patterns of aging bodies; families will be multi-generational with inter-generational financial burdens; marriages could last more than 50 years or no longer be defined as “’til death do us part,” retirement will need to be reimagined and start at a later age; and health and healthcare will need to create a laser focus on the needs of older adults while each individual will need to take more personal responsibility for their own health and well-being.
To change directions slightly, I know your most recent book, Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power will Transform Our World for the Better,” zeroed in on another demographic trend. What made you decide to focus on women?
I believe that women will be the biggest change agent of the next several decades. From the research I’ve been involved with, I’ve come to realize that we are at a unique moment in history, a kind of tipping point. Around the world from developing countries like Uganda to the economic powers like the European Union, Australia, and the United States, for the very first time in history, we are beginning to see a critical mass of women moving from economic dependency to economic emancipation. Just as an example, for the first time ever, we are now seeing almost as many women as men in the U.S. workforce. If current trends continue, the average woman could out-earn the average man by the year 2020.
What does this mean for men in the workplace?
The goal is not for women to succeed at the expense of men but for women to have the same opportunities to succeed as men. For example, according to recent McKinsey/Wall Street Journal research, women are primarily promoted based on performance while men are primarily promoted based on promise. Men are better at finding sponsors within their organization to, not only mentor them, but nurture their careers within the organization itself. Women must deliberately seek out sponsors to help move their careers forward.
Does women’s soaring economic power translate into the marketplace?
Absolutely. Women have always bought things. That’s nothing new. But now they are large purchasers of products that used to be primarily the domain of men: financial services, real estate, automobiles, and technology, to name a few. Conversely, as we see the dual income couple dominate, more men are doing the food shopping, caring for children, and purchasing household-related products. Reaching consumers in this new environment poses some exciting opportunities that savvy companies will respond to.