With Matt Marshall and Jody Holtzman, SVP of AARP yesterday.
Here are some of the points I shared:
The 50+ market is huge and a large untapped opportunity for entrepreneurs. In the U.S. alone, there are 100 million people over 50, and that number grows by 10,000 every day. By 2025, the entire nation will look like Florida does today. Demographics is destiny — the aging population is a perfectly predictable dynamic that will have massive economic repercussions. They already represent a disproportionate 45% of U.S. consumer spending, and healthy aging is already a $515 billion business (Furlong).
The boomers are qualitatively different as well, both from the generations that preceded them, and from common assumptions. Advertisers often focus on the 18-34 year old segment to find adopters of new products. Let’s compare that to the 50+ segments. The 50+ spend 2.5x as much, and dominate the entire market for some segments (60% of all CPG and automobiles, 80% of leisure travel). But are they laggards? They are 3x as likely to buy online as the 18-34 segment. They buy the most hybrid cars, iPads and even online dating services.
But are they looking to retire? Learn new tricks? Boomers are actually the most entrepreneurial age cohort. The per capita company formation rate for people over 50 is double that of 20-somethings and 30% higher than 30-somethings. Many of these businesses feed into the eBay economy, and in the future, when crowdsourcing companies like servio help create a marketplace for information services, then boomers could be America’s outsourcing alternative to off-shoring. (I testified to the White House Conference on Aging on that topic)
Matt asked me how we have invested in this segment. I mentioned Posit Science which reverses age-related cognitive decline with games that promote neural plasticity, especially in the sensory cortex (since that generalizes to many improvements in memory and cognition, since noisy inputs degrades the higher level constructs). They have found an average reversal of 10 years of cognitive decline, and in an auto insurance study, a 50% reduction in at-fault crashes!
And as I looked around the room, I pointed out that for those of us over 30, we are already in the long dive of cognitive decline (evolutionarily, there was not selection pressure for a life extended much beyond the breeding years, and our healthcare advances have done more for the body than the mind).
By almost every physical measure of brain function, the slope of cognitive decline is the same in the 30’s as in the 80’s. We just notice more accumulated decline as we get older, especially when we cross the threshold of forgetting most of what we try to remember.
But we can affect this progression. Prof. Merzenich at UCSF has found that neural plasticity does not disappear in adults. It just requires mental exercise. We will look back to the current day and marvel that we thought we could stay mentally fit without exercise. We will look at it like we do physical fitness. Few modern careers offer the degree of physical and mental exercise required to remain fit.
But the form of exercise differs. Physical exercise is repetitive; mental exercise is eclectic. Do something new. (Here’s my short HBR article on this). Lifelong learning is not just about enlightenment; it’s an economic imperative.
And since it was DEMO after all, I have to share a link to the beta version of the BrainHQ for anyone who read this far and would like to demo the latest from Posit Science. =)
Top photo by Stephen Brashear of DEMO.