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The Say/Do Gap

by Louis on August 8, 2017

87% of Americans want to Age in Place. This repeatedly confirmed and often cited data is behind nearly every article on the older people demographic, caring for our families, preserving social security, medicare and the healthcare system or the market for home remodeling and monitoring technologies. It is, frankly, the rationale for the last 20+ years of my career.

That is all well and good except that “a demographic is not a market“.  What I mean by that is the fact of a huge demographic, even one that expresses an interest that points to economic activity, does not mean that commerce occurs…that money is exchanged for goods and services to fulfill that expressed interest. In plainer language: Just because people say they are interested in aging in place does not in any way mean they are ready to spend money to meet those interests.

This important perspective fits into a topic called the Say/Do Gap. I learned the term “Say/Do Gap” from marketing guru Steve French in a great presentation at the Mary Furlong part of the 2016 American Society on Aging conference.  I have been thinking about the effect and impact for years. But having a name for it is helpful. Now it is real. Now I can share the idea easily because it has a name.

My interest is that so many people say they want to age in place but don’t do anything to prepare. People say they want to be healthy but don’t eat well. Lots of people buy gym memberships in January but they don’t really exercise. People say they want to plan for their retirement but don’t save. You get the idea. Preparing for Aging in Place is similar.

Now, in just the past week, two articles confirm the say/do gap.

Marc Gunther writes in his great blog, Nonprofit Chronicles, about the impact of activist groups on the chicken growing industry he says: “Americans tell pollsters that they care about all this: About 40 percent say they are very concerned or extremely concerned about how chickens are raised or housed, a recent industry survey found. But their actions suggest that they don’t care very much: Per capita consumption of chicken has been growing for decades and will reach record levels this year, according to the National Chicken Council.”

In the second article, Ateev Mehrotra of Harvard Medical School and coauthors found that a large majority (72 percent) of respondents said that their out-of-pocket spending played an important role in determining a choice of provider. However, only 13 percent of those surveyed reported seeking information about their expected spending before receiving care, and just 3 percent had compared costs across providers before their medical visit.

The say/do gap in aging in place home upgrade preparation is confimed in a 2016 report from HomeAdvisor. They report a wide discrepancy between what homeowners say they are doing and the calls contractors get about this kind of work.

“Most homeowners over age 55 (67 percent) say they consider themselves to be proactive about making aging-in-place renovations, and a majority (86 percent) feel they are familiar with aging-in-place additions, remodels or products.

Home service professionals tell a different story: More than half (57 percent) of the home service professionals HomeAdvisor surveyed indicate that aging-in-place projects account for less than 10 percent of the work requests they receive. Furthermore, only 20 percent of pros say most homeowners who contact them about aging-in-place projects reach out proactively,…”

What can we conclude? People just don’t do things because they are good ideas or because they care.  We need to motivate them in their own interests.  Motivation comes in the form of incentives, deals and ‘can’t miss’ opportunities. My study of behavioral economics, how people make economic decisions, lead me to a great book called Switch, How to change things when change is hard by Chip and Dan Heath. The Heath brothers say we should look for “bright spots” of behavior change in analogous cases. The bright spots I have been examining include reusable shopping bags, purchase of energy star appliances, hybrid and electric cars and the installation of solar collectors. The say/do gap of concern for the environment is bridged through government carrot or sticks. Incentives work.

The path to create a market for aging in place home upgrades has started. The introduction of US House bill HR1780 by Charlie Crist and Bruce Poliquin is a bright spot in the right direction for aging in place. That is what HomesRenewed™ is about. Advocacy to support people to do what they say. Let’s do it!


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lisa LaMagna August 8, 2017 at 11:23 pm

Yes yes yes. All these studies about people wanting to age in place — intent is not action. They are responding how they think they should/would respond, and these are very general questions. The question is never, “if you ended up living alone, far from your family, and your friends, would you consider moving closer to x, y, z.” I will be pleased when the “want to age in place’ stat is no longer in every industry presentation. Internally driven motivation is what matters. Thank you.


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