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63 is the new 40.5?

by Louis on September 17, 2007

The Washington Post has been blitzing our issue. They started last week with a special section called 50+. Two articles Sunday and a companion today fall under the banner “Coming of Age Graying in the Suburbs.” These articles are pretty good reporting about the nature and scale of the problem today and impressions about the solutions for tomorrow.

The main article in the 50+ section uses a metaphor that used to bug me. It is the ‘sixty is the new forty’ thing. This never added clarity for me. Then I was lucky to hear a smart man named Andrew Zolli speak at the NAHB Senior Symposium in Denver this year.

Andrew is a good speaker. He used data to illustrate points which were interesting and relevant for the audience. Andrew helped me on the ‘sixty is the new forty thing.’ Now it helps me hold demographic information I am familiar with in valuable perspective.

Life expectancy in 1900 was 47. Now it is 77 (I heard it changed to 78 last week but that is not important). Andrew taught me the percentage of your life remaining is significant in the things you do and the decisions you make.

Folks living in 1900 who wanted to see their family grow up would do well to get started in their teens. And that is what happened. By my parents generation longevity had progressed and more people waited until their twenties. Now that so many of us live into our eighties the thirties are a common time to start a family and approaching your fifties is not too late.

In 1900 a person in their early forties would probably start preparing to wind down and put their affairs in order much like a person in their late sixties or early seventies will prepare today. Since a fifty year old has plenty of healthy and productive years left it is not unresonable to start whole new periods of your life.

I saw this last year. A third of the students in a CAPS class I taught were on a new career track. They were sharp, excited and brought valuable experience to class. In our field where problems and solutions cross disciplines these folks have a leg up on their fresh start. That was the case in this class. Three students were moving from health fields into Aging in Place remodeling services.

The ’60 is the new 40′ thinking affects more than these momentous decisions. It applies to all parts of life. That means sports, recreation, vacations, second homes, luxury products and romance. Another article in the Post 50+ section details the wealth controlled by older Americans. Marketers are attentive.

I picture horizontal lines stacked above each other showing changing longevity over time. Each life segment on each line is longer now than it was a generation ago. That gives you more time to conduct the affairs associated with that life stage. What percentage of your life is over? What percentage is still to come? More time behind you to gain experience and still more in front of you to have fun and get stuff done.

I like this metaphor now. Seventy five is the new forty five. I am about 2/3 through my life expectancy. Fifty three is the new thirty two? I can handle that.

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