Uncovers pushback against youth obsession and fear of living “too long”
NEW YORK, July 17, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Feeling a bit crowded? Over the last year, the world’s population has bounded past 7 billion. And it’s not just because more babies are being born; people are also sticking around longer. In fact, an estimated 6.9 percent of the world’s population is age 65 or older. That’s around 483 million people—or more than the populations of the United States, Mexico, and Canada combined.
What will be the consequences of this demographic shift? That’s what Euro RSCG Worldwide set out to explore through an online survey of 7,213 adults in 19 countries. What the researchers discovered is that, as the average life expectancy increases (it’s now 67 globally, with a high of nearly 83 in Japan), our perceptions of aging and what it means to be “old” are changing. And so are our notions of how—and when—we want our lives to end.
For starters, how we segment our life spans is skewing older: Modern lifestyles—including the tendency to stay in school longer and marry and procreate later—are pushing back the onset of old age. Whereas a century ago most people around the globe didn’t make it to age 40, today middle age doesn’t even begin until 48, according to the respondents. And old age doesn’t start until 71. In other words, most people retire before they’ve actually gotten old.
It takes us even longer to feel old: Nearly 6 in 10 say they feel younger than their age. There was an interesting cultural divide on this issue: Of all 19 markets studied, only the United States had minority agreement (47 percent) with that statement. This compares with 69 percent of Indians and 79 percent of Colombians who say they feel younger than their age. Most people in the global sample (55 percent) are also confident they look younger than most of their peers. Clearly, people are convinced they’re managing to keep the aging process at bay.
Respondents also made it clear that they’re tired of the constant push to mask their age and live up to some sort of unattainable youth ideal. Just about three-quarters expressed the belief that society has grown much too youth obsessed—an opinion shared not just by the older set but also by 6 in 10 millennials (for the purposes of this survey, defined as those aged 18-34). Only 23 percent of the sample said they plan to fight aging every step of the way, compared with the more than three-quarters (77 percent) who said they intend to age gracefully. Around two-thirds—including 75 percent of those aged 55+—said they won’t just accept aging, but will actually “embrace it and all that comes with it.”
“The survey results point to a growing acceptance of the aging process,” said Tom Morton, chief strategy officer, Euro RSCG New York and co-chief strategy officer, Euro RSCG North America. “While people still want to optimize their looks, they aren’t willing to go to extreme lengths to stave off the signs of age. It’s no longer so much about how you look but how you feel and how much you can do. The new generation of elderly don’t expect to withdraw from society as they age. They fully intend to remain vital and active, and when that’s no longer possible, they’d prefer a quick exit to a prolonged, unsatisfying existence.”
It’s telling that of 20 aging-related concerns presented as part of the survey, becoming physically unattractive was deemed less worrisome than all but one issue on the list (not being supported by their children came in last). Only 19 percent were even moderately worried about losing their looks. And just 1 in 5 have had or would consider surgical enhancements to look younger. For many, the motivation to go under the knife is about more than vanity: Fifty-two percent cite on-the-job age discrimination as a reason people are so desperate to hide/retard signs of age.
What does worry people about aging? The biggest concerns center on loss of independence, mobility, and financial security:
- Two-thirds are moderately to extremely worried about diminished physical capacity as they grow older, while almost as many (64 percent) worry about losing their cognitive skills.
- More than 6 in 10 are worried about running out of money before they die, and 59 percent fear they won’t be able to afford adequate medical care. With the post-retirement period lasting longer and traditional forms of support (e.g., extended family, government programs) disappearing, there’s a sense that older people are being left to fend for themselves. Nearly three-quarters of global respondents (71 percent) and 84 percent of those aged 55+ believe “the government needs to do more to protect and provide for the elderly.”
- Interestingly, fewer than 4 in 10 respondents say they worry about death and dying. And it seems to be a fear that ebbs with age, affecting 42 percent of millennials but only 30 percent of those aged 55+.
These very real concerns about the downsides of aging are leading people to question whether they actually want to stay alive as long as possible: When asked whether they would take a pill that would guarantee they’d live to age 100 but without any certainties regarding their physical or mental state, only 28 percent said they’d swallow the pill, while 72 percent would give it a pass. Four in 10 respondents said they’d rather not live into their late 90s, preferring to die younger, when they’re less frail and more independent. There’s also widespread concern about the more general possibility of humans finding new ways to extend lifespans. More than 4 in 10 worry that new technologies and medical advances will extend people’s lives to the detriment of society and the planet.
The idea of immortality may be a mainstay of mythology, but it loses its appeal when eternal youth and good health aren’t part of it. It’s easy to understand, then, why nearly half the global sample believe physician-assisted suicide should be legal, and why 4 in 10 say they would consider that option if their physical health deteriorated sufficiently.
Women are particularly worried about losing their quality of life before they die. On every single one of the 20 areas of concern related to aging, women outscored men, by a margin ranging from a single percentage point (having to live in a nursing home, being bored) to a gap of 11 points (diminished mental capacity).
“In our new world, people are obsessed with the idea of lifelong autonomy and mobility—and it is changing their relationship with aging,” says Marianne Hurstel, vice president, Euro RSCG’s BETC and global chief strategy officer, Euro RSCG Worldwide. “It’s no longer enough to age beautifully and gracefully; now we must age in such a way that we retain our ability to do things, to contribute and be productive, and to remain a vital part of what’s happening around us. The demographic shift the world is currently undergoing will have significant consequences for virtually every consumer-facing industry, as people come to grips with living for decades past their primes. As marketers, we need to do what we can to ease these fears—and make sure people are aware of all the tools at their disposal to help them maintain their health, fitness, finances, and independence as long as possible.”
About the Study
The Aging study was created by Euro RSCG Worldwide and fielded as an online survey by Market Probe International. The 7, 213 respondents are ages 18 and older and live in 19 markets across the globe: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
About Euro RSCG Worldwide
Euro RSCG Worldwide is a leading integrated marketing communications agency and was the first agency to be named Global Agency of the Year by both Advertising Age and Campaign in the same year. Euro RSCG is made up of 233 offices in 75 countries and provides advertising, marketing, corporate communications, and digital and social media solutions to clients, including Air France, BNP Paribas, Charles Schwab, Citigroup, Danone Group, IBM, Kraft Foods, Lacoste, Merck, Pernod Ricard, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Reckitt Benckiser, Sanofi, and Volvo. Headquartered in New York, Euro RSCG Worldwide is the largest unit of Havas, a world leader in communications (Euronext Paris SA: HAV.PA).
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SOURCE Euro RSCG Worldwide