Segregation Isn’t Just About Race or Culture

Age Segregation in America

–The following article first appeared in HECMWorld in 2018–
Ageism is huge in America — and it may be a result of societal age segregation, rather than specific beliefs, says Brown University historian Howard Chudacoff.

In his book How Old Are You? Age Consciousness in American Culture, Chudacoff writes, “Until the mid-nineteenth century, Americans showed little concern with age. The one-room schoolhouse was filled with students of varied ages, and children worked alongside adults….”

With the advent of the industrial revolution, an assembly-line mentality led to standardizing everything from education to the workplace to retirement communities.

As a result, “Vast numbers of younger people are likely to live into their 90s without contact with older people,” skewing their perception of aging to one that is highly unrealistic, asserts Cornell professor Karl Pillemer, who calls our present societal structure “a dangerous experiment.”

“Silver” Lining

Yet there is a literal silver lining if we look beyond convention. We’ve already discussed the deleterious effects isolation and loneliness can have on seniors and explored myriad innovative solutions, such as:

  • cross-generational home-sharing
  • co-housing communities
  • retirement planning strategies (including a four-footed friend)
  • conscious preparation for the Third Act.

And while seasoned reverse mortgage professionals no doubt appreciate how life experience helps one succeed as a business owner, there’s amusing new data that shows entrepreneurs, like fine wine, improve with age.

According to The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, 40-year-olds (which may still sound rather young if you’re 65+), are twice as likely to succeed in their own venture as someone who starts a business at 25.

But what may astound both Millennials and doubters — and delight Boomers — is this: at 59, an entrepreneur is four and a half times more likely to found a successful startup than someone who is 25! And though 60-year-olds comprise just 1.3% of startup founders, a 60-year-old is 1.5 times as likely as a 25-year-old to found a startup that’s in the top 10 percent.

The message is clear: gray is the way. Once you’ve been forged in and tempered by life’s fire, you can parlay this passion and purpose into a visionary business for the Third Stage.

So how can all ages benefit from the blessings of youth and age?

Becoming Ageless

Fortunately, Chudacoff’s and Pillmer’s pronouncements hold less sway in the Information Age than they might have a few decades ago. The Millennials are writing their own rules for the game of life or tossing the rulebook out altogether. And they’re inculcating inclusivity in the process.

Consider this insight from a 20-something, on the startup mindset: “The thought of age lingers in our minds and floats around us in images on a constant basis. You are always too young, or too old, to be anything. Within the world of business, age seems to be an issue whose presence is constantly ignored. The young battle the old for a place in the market; too early vs. too late.

“The issue lies in the lack of collaborative spirit often created by preconceived notions of age in the western world. But entrepreneurship is a boundary-less system, a territory that expands. It has the capacity to move away from these ideas to create new and improved ones. It is our job, as entrepreneurs, to make sure it reaches that full potential.”

Inspiring, isn’t it?

How can you, as a HECM professional, aging advocate, and entrepreneur, help dismantle the idea that age is something that limits us, instead of just a number?