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Poor information hobbles market perceptions about older adults

Even Bing and ChatGPT have lousy answers. In fact, as lives lengthen, data about aging individuals dwindles inversely. Don’t believe it? Start searching for recently surveyed data about individuals aged 75+. Use the usual searches for income, marital status, housing status, tech ownership.  Go ahead – give Bing and ChatGPT a try too – for example, smartphone ownership in the US among those aged 75+.  Data returned was from 2017, with an apology that nothing more recent was available. You would think this was an easy question -- Bing knew it  and was sorry about the lack of current info, which none of the other usual sources have either.


Life expectancy – media obfuscates.  On the one hand, you no doubt have read that life expectancy at birth has shrunk (due to Covid, opioid deaths, suicide) by three years to age 76. On the other hand, life expectancy at 65? On average expect another 20 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  For planning purposes, insurers and actuaries say to plan for a longer life. That 20 years on average is independent of chronic disease. Today 32% of people age 65-69 are still working.  And 24% of men, 14% of women aged 70-74 are still working. These two trends are tightly coupled – longer life expectancy, longer working. And likely more tech ownership.

Age – broad segment range obfuscates. AARP still hasn’t retired. The organization apparently has no intention to give up on tracking the ‘single segment’ behavior of 108.7 million people aged 50+. Their media frequently describes them as if they were a single entity (see Magazine).  Some of the 108.7 million are working, some live only on Social Security income. Some own their own homes, some live in nursing homes. Did you know that 22 million older adults are aged 75+, three million more women than men? Isn’t 22 million a large enough population number to be considered separately?  To give AARP credit, its trends surveys now combine upper age ranges into 70+, which is an improvement over Pew and many others that treat 65+ as a single entity. No doubt, all would say that the 75+ population is not adequately sampled. Why? Because marketers don't demand it?

What can you see with your own non-lying eyes? More people in their 80s appear to own smartphones and smart speakers (some day we will know exactly how many). And 55% of men aged 85+ years are driving. They are (hopefully) using technology for in-car GPS and also to connect to others, including families. More are trying to keep up with technology, despite ever more complex sign-on processes and baffling navigation. More suffer from health concerns that are different, more likely, or worse than the health conditions of 50-60-year-olds. Consider degenerative arthritis, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease. Yet the CDC data about older adult mortality is dated 2021 – and the health status answer? It's for the 65+.


Laurie Orlov thanks for this. Can you imagine if we lumped all people between 35 and 65 in the same category, regardless of age, life factors or socioeconomic vulnerability? That’s what we do when we use blunt-instrument words like “senior,” “elderly,” and “Medicare.” Non-actionable thinking creates no action.