Director of Wallis Annenberg GenSpace, Dr. Jennifer Wong, spoke about the importance of reframing aging at the Milken Institute 2023 Global Conference.
The panel conversation included four other leaders, including: Tracy Chadwell, Founding Partner of 1843 Capital; Stacy London, Style Expert and Menopause Advocate; Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Founder of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative; and Dr. Charlotte Yeh, Chief Medical Officer of AARP Services. The conversation was moderated by Diane Ty, the Senior Director of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging.
Panelists began by highlighting why ageism is detrimental to not only older adults, but to the economy and society at large. Dr. Charlotte Yeh reported that although adults 50 years and older contribute $8.3 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy, AARP finds that the country lost $850 billion dollars of GDP growth due to age discrimination, citing that two-thirds of people who retire early do so because of age discrimination.
Dr. Yeh emphasized the many benefits that a positive view of aging brings:
- Adds 7.5 years to lifespan
- 43% lower mortality risk
- 23% increase in physical activity
- 23% better sleep
Panelists agreed that to create lasting positive views on aging, we must reimagine aging entirely so that ageism is not learned at a young age and internalized in adulthood.
Dr. Jennifer Wong shared how GenSpace’s Leadership Initiative is working to do just that. GenSpace recently hosted a discussion with the stars of 80 for Brady – along with other Hollywood writers, creatives, and executives – to highlight the importance of telling stories about older adults that aren’t based on stereotypes. GenSpace provided a Content Creators Guide to ensure the writers and creators have the language to more accurately portray older adults on the small and large screen.
Dr. Wong also emphasized the intergenerational approach at the heart of GenSpace’s programming. From the internships and fellowships for young professionals to learn how to better serve older adults, to the third, sixth, and ninth graders who take classes with GenSpace members and engage in bidirectional intergenerational mentorship.
“GenSpace thought the best way to reimagine aging is to value older adults…This means beautiful spaces, not leftover tan, drab walls. It means innovative programming…really a space that meets the needs of older adults and their hopes and dreams.” – GenSpace Director, Dr. Jennifer Wong
The panelists also focused on older women, who are the most vulnerable population of older adults. Advocate Stacy London highlighted the way menopause has become stigmatized and avoided in our culture. Because of this stigma, women dread and avoid the topic, rather than preparing for this important and drastic life transition. This disregard is further perpetuated by the healthcare system. London points out that the healthcare system prepares women for puberty, fertility, and pregnancy, but the support disappears as soon as women become unable to reproduce.
“We have to acknowledge that saying goodbye to youth is hard…But at the same time, we should be using language that promotes this idea that what you’re evolving into has just as much value.” – Stacy London
Moderator Diane Ty emphasized that the traditional timeline of spending 20 years getting educated, 40 years working, and later life consuming leisure is no longer the reality for a majority of Americans.
Because of our newly-expected 100-year lifespan, people often have multi-stage careers. This means that now and in the future, older adults need to and want to be working later, and micro- and macrosystems must prepare us to do so. On a micro-level, we need to save early and start healthy activities and habits regarding sleep, nutrition, and exercise in order to prepare for this new lifespan. On a macro-level, the new narrative must represent modern, non-sequential life transitions.
For example, women often must step away from their careers to take care of children and parents. This makes it extremely difficult for them to re-enter the workforce. Employers must evolve their hiring practices to consider the cumulative disadvantages that older women face.
Dr. Stacy Smith encouraged the audience to use the power of language to combat ageism, to critically analyze the stereotypical phrases we commonly use, and to stop using negative and disparaging language when talking about aging. Dr. Wong added that in order to not tokenize a particular path of older adulthood, we can actively seek out a wide variety of stories about aging in media, through brands that value aging. Only then can we reinforce that ‘…investing in older adults is profitable and smart and just plain good for business.’
Click here to watch the full panel discussion. GenSpace is proud to not only serve as a dedicated space for older adults to continue learning, evolving, and growing, but also as a disrupter of ageism and a driver of age-inclusion.