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TRANSFORMATION| 17.05.2021

Supporting seniors after the pandemic: From crisis to opportunities of longevity

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Advances in healthcare and reduced infant mortality have increased the world’s average life expectancy from 56 to 72 years in just half a century. Spain, currently ranked second for the world’s oldest population behind Japan, is on track to lead the ranking in 2040, and already has more people over 65 years old than 15.

“We’re talking about aging, but we can talk about rejuvenation,” Juan Fernández Palacios said recently in an online seminar held to present Fundación MAPFRE’s Ageingnomics Research Center (CIA), which he directs, together with the University of San Andrés, in Argentina.

 

We asked for his expert opinion, along with that of Juan Martín, head of the International Center on Ageing (CENIE), on the attitude change needed in response to what this silver population—in whose hands the bulk of income and savings rests—expects and contributes. They are active, prepared, technological and guarantee consumption in uncertain times. And yet, as the days go by, when they reach the “official” retirement age, they see their chances of working, of receiving the recognition they deserve and of continuing to contribute to a more diverse society, but one that is determined to focus investment on the youngest members of society, all cut short.

Fernández Palacios, who before heading the CIA was Managing Director and Vice President of MAPFRE Vida, aspires to a world in which seniors have “the consideration and prominence that they deserve and that society needs, as an active group that contributes to the economy and volunteering, and with the attitude of enjoying the gift that a longer and healthier life entails.”

 

Seniors, a mainstay of economic growth 

For Juan Martín, head of the International Center on Ageing (CENIE), longevity should be one of the prime focal points for the economic growth model. “Spain can become a global benchmark by making it a priority and essential objective,” he explains, because it enjoys an enviable climate, landscape and cultural variety, a model of open, dynamic, welcoming, vibrant and very attractive relationship and coexistence.

“Few other causes will be so beneficial at the social level,” he says. “And almost none could be compared in terms of generating jobs, new professions, and benefits based on better training and excellence, the mainstays of an emerging economic sector with enormous future impact,” he adds.

Imagen tomada en el CENIE durante el ciclo Conversaciones en Salamanca: Comprendiendo el envejecimiento

As the Fundación’s CIA Senior Consumer Barometer confirms, longevity opens the door to opportunities, both in terms of supply and demand, thanks to the characteristics of seniors, as listed by Fernández Palacios: their creative, productive and innovative capacity; their knowledge and experience; as an asset to companies and a source of entrepreneurship, and their capacity to consume goods and services.

Data support this: 55 percent live in households in which at least two people contribute monthly income, 90 percent own their own home; 56 percent have the capacity to save and are real drivers of tourism, a pillar of growth and that, in time, will return to normal.

As for future guidelines, the barometer reflects that, when the pandemic ends, in addition to food and drink, leisure, travel and tourism, health consumption will also increase, a fact that Fernández Palacios believes “reflects the desire to enjoy and recover lost time, in a new positive attitude of this segment of the population.”

Is the pandemic a wake-up call?

According to Fernández Palacios, COVID-19 shed light on the “enormous shortcomings” of our senior care system in many other countries; and it highlighted the urgent need to redefine this system, “for justice for our parents and grandparents, and for our future selves, because we are all heading toward this situation.” Nothing should elicit more consensus than support for building a system that respects their dignity, while at the same time being efficient, safe and high quality. This opens up a range of opportunities for business and volunteer projects that the research center wants to support.

The immediate consequence of the crisis was a certain change in attitude toward seniors, which we see reflected in audiovisual and print media, in TV series and in a medium as popular as cinema. “It’s about consolidating it, not going back to the old ways, and adopting the necessary measures and incentives to drive the model in the right direction,” Fernández Palacios stresses. “I think that initiatives like MAPFRE’s with the CIA, as well as other public or private projects, will help to implement what are, so far, essentially good intentions.”

Against the ‘ageist’ stigma of seniors

Until now, an aging population, accelerated by the combination of increased longevity and decreased birth rates, has been considered a phenomenon with primarily negative consequences, due to its impact on the sustainability of pension systems, healthcare systems and due to the high costs associated with providing long-term care. However, evidence indicates that the increase in life span is accompanied by an improvement in health and physical and intellectual conditions.

Juan Martín says that age should not be a criterion for determining what roles people should have and, to break any such formula, including the one “in good faith” that tends to identify them as a separate group, he asks a simple question: What roles can people over the age of 65 not play? Seniors shouldn’t, nor do they want to be a cause of discriminatory segmentation, nor the victims of childish positivism.

Unfinished business

Due to pressure from the demographic, economic and financial risks facing all pension systems around the world, the future of pensions is one of the biggest challenges facing societies, and it is imperative that governments reflect on which measures can make them sustainable in the future. According to MAPFRE Economics’ recent Pension systems from a global perspective report, published by Fundación MAPFRE, the regions under the greatest pressure to reform their current models are Western Europe, Japan and South Korea. 

Fernández Palacios also appeals to the need to offer alternatives at the individual level, which help develop and maintain the self-esteem of people in a healthy and active aging process that makes them feel like the focus of societal evolution.

‘Mentoring’ for fluid knowledge

Rarely has humanity experienced a period of changes as deep and abundant as those that are happening today. “Change is inseparable from living. Now, changing and adapting is surviving” Martin recalls.

Change affects everything. Companies, like society itself, face enormous challenges. “Connecting innovation and experience; in new business models, everything no longer depends just on everyone having a specific task to perform, but also on the planned and constant exercise so that knowledge transfer becomes a reality, spaces are open and flexible, and knowledge flows,” explains the head of CENIE.

According to data from the International Labor Organization, a quarter of the world’s workforce in 2030 will be between 55 and 64 years old. Beyond the limitations of certain professional tasks, age is not at odds with productivity. “Innovation does not only apply to youth, just as analyzing with wisdom and calmness is not exclusive to mature ages,” argues Martin. “But what distinguishes both ends of the age spectrum is the number and condition of the circumstances experienced, both professionally and personally, which transforms into knowledge, skills and abilities that must form a part of companies’ culture and the circulation of which would be very misguided to prevent. It’s time to turn this heritage into a real professional asset,” he insists.

Mentoring, a typical practice at MAPFRE both in its traditional (taught by senior people) and inverse (taught by younger people) forms can be one of the most desirable methods. Mentors have historically been a decisive factor in learning practices: “Certain knowledge can only be achieved with the successful passing of years, with the wise settling of personal and collective experiences,” Martin reflects.

The classic figure of the teacher and the apprentice now takes on a new sense and, as the apprentice advances, in our contemporaneity of constant change “we will all be both figures in unison, continuously.”

How the Ageingnomics Research Center came to be 

Since 2015 when MAPFRE took on the need for a positive approach to the phenomenon of increased longevity, the Group has been developing various activities, including joint events with Deusto Business School, focused on analyzing—together with the key players of relevant industries and sectors—opportunities offered by the new socio-economic environment marked by demography. Antonio Huertas, MAPFRE Chairman and CEO, and Iñaki Ortega, professor at the International University of La Rioja and Advisor to the CIA, co-wrote The Silver Revolution, where they share an optimistic view on the concept of ageingnomics regarding the opportunities of extending lifespans around the world. In 2020, it was deemed necessary to permanently continue with all these actions, precisely from a non-profit perspective. Hence the Ageingnomics Research Center (CIA) was created under the umbrella of Fundación MAPFRE, with the aim of raising awareness of the senior population’s potential contribution to society through dissemination, through research on new ways to harness said potential and through support for entrepreneurial projects that have a social impact.