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The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World's Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market Hardcover – November 7, 2017
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"I loved this book. It's thought-provoking, insightful, and unexpectedly fun. You'll learn about what we get wrong about a world where people live a long time, how innovators botch serving such people, and how everyone from families to companies can do a lot better. With fantastic stories of runaway successes and hilarious flops alike ("Senior Food," anyone?), Coughlin demonstrates how design and innovation can change the way we age."
―Atul Gawande, author of Being Mortal
"Forget what you 'think' you know about aging. The landscape of later life has been transformed, and thanks to Joe Coughlin we now have a GPS to guide us through this exciting new world."―Andy Sieg, head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management
"Joe Coughlin has proven that the time has come to create a new narrative of possibility in old age. In The Longevity Economy, he not only defines that better narrative--he shows businesses how to lead in creating it and how to profit from the opportunities it provides."―Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO, AARP
"Joe Coughlin has done a terrific job exploding "old age" as a concept. The magnificent result--at once forward-looking, hilariously irreverent, and engaging--serves as an indispensable road map for how to take full advantage of life's ever-lengthening third act. As I've found among the world's longest-lived people, celebrating older people is a key ingredient. The Longevity Economy shows us how to harness the skills of the wisest people among us and help them--and everyone around them--live longer."―Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow and author of The Blue Zones
"In The Longevity Economy, Joe Coughlin offers keen insights into the aging population and how it is transforming our society and economy. Longer lifespans will revolutionize the way we live and offer incredible new opportunities, but will also require a new rigor in the way people plan and save for their later years. Coughlin's work is helping raise awareness of the demographic shifts, helping build critical understanding of the need for individuals, businesses and policymakers alike to adapt and change for the future."―Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., President and CEO, TIAA
"This book is classic Coughlin, complete with real-life examples too big to ignore and too interesting to forget. The Longevity Economy doesn't just make you rethink the role of consumer insights and trends, it forces you to re-imagine their impact."
―Stephanie Linnartz, Marriott International Global Chief Commercial Officer
"What a magnificent book! Dr. Coughlin dispels the many biases that surround our perceptions of aging as a path to irrelevance. It should instead be seen as a path to ascendance. Increasingly, inclusive design is where businesses are heading because 'the golden years' are where true gold lies in the new, longevity economy."―John Maeda, author of The Laws of Simplicity and Redesigning Leadership
About the Author
Joseph Coughlin is the founder and director of the MIT AgeLab, a multidisciplinary research program created to understand the behavior of the 50+ population, the role of technology in their lives, and the opportunity for innovation to improve the quality of life for older adults and their families. He is a member of the board of directors of AARP, AARP Services, and Benchmark Senior Living. Coughlin consults with major companies in the United States and internationally, including BMW, Colgate, Kimberly Clark, JP Morgan, Marriott, Johnson & Johnson, Cartier, and many others.
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Coughlin uses this key understanding of the human mind's working to dismantle the "narrative" we have been using about old age. At the outset, Coughlin writes, "Old age (as a concept) is made up. Most of it was invented by human beings for short-term, human purposes over the past century and a half. Today, we’re stuck with a notion of oldness that is so utterly at odds with reality that it has become dangerous. It constrains what we can do as we age, which is deeply troubling, considering that the future of our older world will naturally hinge on the actions of the older people in it."
Once this narrative sets in, as human beings we cannot look at old age in any other way. Kahneman would call this framing. Once old age is framed in our minds as frail and incompetent, it leaves no room for any other way of thinking about vast and an ever growing swath of society.
There are two telling examples in the book. One is when the author is speaking about females being decision makers on key aspects of managing family affairs such as health care and doctors. An audience of well educated senior corporate professionals in the audience took exception to his observation. The narrative power of males being the "deciders in chief' was too deeply rooted to even tolerate this counter observation. Yet as Coughlin points out, the demographic future (of the human race) is female.
The other example is even more pervasive and perhaps dangerous in the long run. There are many retirement villages being built all around the world. These villages are so complete that retirees flock to them. They have all the amenities to make life comfortable. The retirees are happy, the people who work there are happy and the developers of these villages are happy. What is not to like about this set-up?
The flaw is in the narrative of old age that we have accepted without questioning it. To retire is to go away. To separate. To withdraw. That is the definition we all accept. Thus we are creating communes where people with experience, wisdom, vitality and a whole lot to offer are no longer active part of the larger society. With 20+% of the global population forecast to be in this category by 2050, that is a tectonic shift in what we are setting ourselves up for.
Coughlin sees opportunity in all this. He terms this opportunity, which is also the title of his book - The Longevity Economy. Businesses can think afresh of the products and services to cater to this vast and growing segment to generate business growth and profit. That is larger than most countries on the planet. Coughlin shares examples of everything from apps to social networks to every day objects to services as creative examples that companies can develop and pursue.
The book is well written and an easy read. It is full colorful anecdotes including the author's experiences at MIT, the US Government and working with companies all around the world. These anecdotes build upon each other, and one is left feeling inspired to go out and change the narrative on old age and re-integrate the entirety of the human age spectrum back into society.
Notwithstanding the obvious conclusion from the book that, for most of us, "retirement" as currently understood will be soon regarded as a hilarious relic of the 20th century, the highlight of the book is the contrast between two deftly explored visions of retirement in today's America. This can be summarized as Florida vs. Massachusetts. In Coughlin's view, retirement to a sunny golf course and nightly sex parties is a dangerous option, in that its visibility and obvious appeal mask its external costs and crowd out more scalable and healthy options for seniors. And Coughlin makes a tight-knit community in Boston sound, let's say, highly actualizing. But intentionally or not, I don't leave the book longing for book club meetings and the occasional wine bar meet-up on Beacon Hill.
Golf and sex parties sound like a lot more fun--I don't think the book disputes that. But Coughlin draws the reader to conclude that retirement itself is being re-designed both financially and culturally, with the result that we'll soon abandon the entire idea of just stopping your work and moving somewhere to play and hang out until you die. Moreover, even in Florida, seniors lack access to products and services that could greatly improve their lives, and could be provided at great profit to society as a whole. The idea that all people profit by embracing economic vitality well beyond "retirement age" is the point, and it sneaks up on you between anecdotes about stolen golf carts and ergonomic potato peelers.
My only gripe is the lack of significant discussion of fitness products, which our society often assumes are for the young, but there are more older buyers every year as people gain more awareness of how to stay healthy. Some of the best ads I've seen that are aimed at middle-aged consumers are those for home fitness equipment, especially the machines that are Internet-enabled and allow users to participate in instructor-led virtual classes.