Science and technology have increased the human lifespan to longer than ever—the average American lifespan is now nearly 80 years old. Couple that with the giant baby boomer generation that is now in older age, and you have a huge potential for the aging population to make an impact in the world. There are millions of retirees who are still healthy and raring to contribute to society, but they face several hurdles in today’s world. As a society, it would be beneficial for us to capitalize on the resource that is the aging population and to make changes that will accommodate this population.

The Aging Population and Infrastructure

One of the biggest challenges that older people face is the infrastructure of cities and towns. While there are many cities that offer great benefits for seniors, not every community is as well-suited. We often don’t realize how difficult it can be for a senior citizen to get around a city, and it just gets harder the older they get. Seniors often need more places to sit and rest than are available. Older people have trouble crossing the street in the allotted time at crosswalks. Public transportation can be confusing and a huge hurdle for those who don’t drive. Senior living spaces and activity centers are often isolated and not well-incorporated in the rest of the community.

These infrastructure issues are important challenges to address, and there are several innovative groups and people who have started to tackle them. In the Netherlands, a nursing home has offered free housing to university students in exchange for weekly volunteering with the elderly residents. This novel idea has great benefits for the seniors, as they are able to interact with young people daily and discuss life beyond just aches and pains. Using a similar idea, the Manhattan-based architecture firm Hollwich Kushner has proposed a project for a “new aging tower”, where residents are housed in a skyscraper that fosters interaction and relationships between people of all generations.

There is a tangible economic benefit to creating infrastructure that allows older people to age within the larger community, rather than isolating them. An analysis of the greater Atlanta region found that adding 1,000 new residents aged 65 and above would bring a $7.8 billion increase to its GDP. The spending power of the older population cannot be ignored, especially because this age group is a significant portion of the total population.

Older Adults in the Workforce

According to Fast Company, an estimated 31.9% of people between 65 and 74 will remain in the workplace by 2022—an 11.5% increase from 2002. Studies have shown that higher numbers of employed seniors generally indicate stronger economic circumstances, which translates into more jobs for every generation. Incorporating older and younger workers on the same projects is an essential aspect of diversity, as each group can bring a different perspective to the task. Millennials often bring creativity and innovation, while baby boomers can contribute experience and the ability to imagine long-term effects and goals. In addition, 25% of Americans aged 55+ spend time volunteering, contributing over 3 million hours of service per year and an economic benefit of $77 billion dollars annually.

The aging population still has a lot of life left in them, and it’s important for our society to recognize that continued potential and capitalize on it. Infrastructure changes and shifting attitudes toward aging are essential to realizing the economic and societal benefits that the aging population brings.

By: Elena McPhillips