David Cravit, vice-president of ZoomerMedia with decades of advertising and marketing experience, tracks what he calls “the greatest social revolution of all time.” Having written two books about the implications of lifespan extensions, Cravit explores the reinvention and rebranding of the concept of aging.
Cravit will be one of the keynote speakers at the UIA-Jewish Federations of Canada Engaging with Aging conference, held in Montreal between Sept. 18 to 20.
How does aging today compare to aging in generations past?
Basically what is happening is that the baby boomers are the first generation to not act, not behave, the way people expect people to behave at a given age. They are acting youthful.
If you look around, you see people in their 60s and 70s who are acting the way people in their 40s or 50s acted in the previous generation. So in my parents’ generation – I’m a baby boomer obviously – how you saw a 50-year-old, now you’re seeing a 70-year-old.
That same delayed aging is just getting underway and it is only shocking and surprising to us because it never happened before. People are saying, ‘Oh my God, there are Cougar websites. Oh my God, people are still having sex in their 80s.’
People are not only living longer, but because they are living longer, they are forced to act younger because they can’t afford to retire, most of them. The good news is, you’re going to live longer. The bad news is you’re going to live longer.
What are some of the pros and cons of a longer lifespan and the reinvention of aging?
So your grandparents’, or great-grandparents’ generation essentially graduated at 25 from university, were in the job market in their mid-20s and worked for 40 years. They retired at midnight on their 65th birthday, got a gold watch and a farewell party, and they were dead 10 years later. They only needed about 40 years to save enough money to last them for 10 years and hope that those 10 years would be relatively pain free and healthy.
If you’re 65 today, and in decent health you’ve got a 50/50 shot at getting to 95. Not many people have enough money for 30 years. It’s not that easy. So they are not retiring at 65, or they are semi-retiring, or they keep on working a little bit. That is the first thing. And if they are going to keep on working, they have to keep their skills up, so you’ve got them on the Internet or going to re-invention seminars. This is what I mean by this being the age of not acting your age.
At the other end of the pipeline, everyone is getting older later. We’ve got the millennials, fairly or unfairly targeted as a loser generation – higher unemployment and 33 per cent of them still living at home as adults, whereas the boomers were at 13 per cent. The British Psychological Association, this year, decided to change their definition of adolescence so that it ends at 25.
The concept of old kicks in later and for adults it’s also kicking in later. This has never happened before so it’s shocking. Oh my God, this guy is 25 and still living with his parents, but he might live to 150, so it won’t be that shocking. We’re imposing the timescale of the past on the different ages of the present, saying this is supposed to happen at this age, this is supposed to stop happening at this age and it is all out of whack because everything is happening later.
Has this phenomenon changed social services and the marketing world?
The big institutions, the government, the policy wonks, and marketers and so on are very, very behind in their thinking.
If they define 65 as a senior citizen, and the life expectancy is increasing to 120, you’re going to be a senior citizen for almost half your life. So how can that be the same as when you were a senior citizen for 10 or 15 years before you died?
We have to rethink our marketing, we have to rethink the social services we’re offering, we have to rethink how we attract talent, because in all these organizations – Jewish community, or otherwise – baby boomers are not interested in being passive, meek volunteers. I don’t want to come in and lick stamps in your office. I want adventure. I want kick-ass experiences. I want to go to Costa Rica and build a Habitat for Humanity.
Is this shift a good thing?
It’s a good thing, because if you can live longer, that’s great. But it’s a challenging thing because before this happened, as you got older, your closeness to death and your health problems became the defining characteristic of who you were. You could be a millionaire or a pauper, but you were really struggling with the same stuff. There was no need to segment the market into separate groups. Today, you’ve got 50 million zoomers. These are baby boomers and seniors combined. Now you’ve got to recognize that some of these people are aging exactly the way everyone used to age. This whole revolution in aging is not happening for them. Some of them are radically redefining age. There are a whole bunch of different groups. A person’s age doesn’t tell you as much about a person as it used to.
Are there misconceptions about aging that are being abandoned as age groups continue to shift?
In the past, old people were retreating and withdrawing from life because they felt they had six or seven years left, and they wanted to just be free from pain, to see their grandchildren. Today, if you’re 65 and feel like you’ve got 20 years to go, are you going to spend those 20 years playing shuffleboard?
It’s a very interesting phenomenon to the extent that baby boomers are getting divorced, and majority of the time it is initiated by the woman.
The stereotype used to be the opposite. It used to be, ‘I’m a woman, I’ve hit menopause, God forbid hubby and his wandering eye falls for that sexy secretary because at 51, I’m done. I’ve got nothing to offer anymore.’ Well, not anymore.
Look at the Dove Campaign where they glorify the beauty of old age. They weren’t trying to airbrush them to make them look like they were 26 and a size 2. There was a 70-year-old woman who was gorgeous and, by the way, maybe she still wants to have sex. When you think you’ve got a long way to go, you start behaving as if there is more available for you, whether it is educational, or financial, or sexual, or social. You don’t behave like you’re retreating from the world.
If I’m the Jewish Agency, or if I’m UJA and I’m trying to develop social services for these people, I really have to be aware that we’re not in Kansas anymore.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.