Every period in history is accompanied by a certain measure of uncertainty. Over the past 70 years, these uncertainties have accelerated exponentially making the future difficult to predict. Population ageing, however, has been on the horizon for decades. Other than negative rhetoric surrounding its implications, little has been done to turn the longevity dividend into the opportunity it is. Regrettably, ageism prevails.
Fertility rates have been down in all developing countries; vaccines and medical advances have contributed to extended lifespans and health spans; technology has facilitated new ways of doing work; and science has provided insights into disease management, nutrition, and healthy living. These advances have all contributed to living longer and for the most part, better.
The World Health Organization in its 2021 Global Report on Ageism recommended that to combat ageism, the most effective strategy involves fostering of the interaction between people of different generations. This reduces prejudice and stereotypes of both younger and older adults.
Nonetheless, businesses continue to ’retire‘ older employees despite their longer lifespans. Many families opt to silo older adults in senior residences, assisted living, or long-term care facilities. Schools began to educate children in much the same way at the beginning of the 20th century and, generally speaking, we adhere to traditional life milestones in the same order as we did previously: learn, earn, and retire. Instead of intentionally mixing ages together, we continue to segregate them.
To counter this, Top Sixty Over Sixty initiated a series entitled “We Need to Talk, Conversations Across Generations” just prior to the pandemic. It was designed to combat the loneliness that was experienced by a great many older adults, youth and young adults and bring generations together.
The series attracted people of all ages (between 16 and 90) who participated in facilitated conversations designed to amplify their understanding of selected topics through an age lens. The discussions were rich, the learning great, and the networking even better. For some, it was their first exposure to someone of a different generation. Throughout the years, it became evident that younger and older people thoroughly enjoyed getting together. They looked forward to the monthly, virtual sessions. Relationships were formed. Everyone thrived.
Today’s workforce comprises up to five generations. In the 1950s no more than three generations worked together. The current reality presents untold opportunities to combine the thinking, resources, expertise, and experience of people ranging in age from 15 to 100. Age diversity is the missing diversity in 92% of the world’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion strategies and yet it intersects with all identities, multiplying possibilities.
Fortunately, there are currently other organizations that are intentionally bringing young and older together. ’Habitations Partagées Mirela‘ in Ottawa, ON offers services to pair older and younger adults to share living arrangements. The Ottawa Council on Ageing has initiated an ’Engage at Every Age‘ program. In Saskatchewan, a unique intergenerational program embeds a sixth-grade class inside an advanced care home for the school year.
Are Canadians really taking stock and questioning whether the skills, knowledge, and expertise of all citizens, young and old, are being maximized for the benefit of society and the economy?
Fortunately, some businesses and organizations are realizing that the best way forward is to combine the strengths of the many generations that work together. There’s an urgency to bridge these divides and mobilize the talents and experiences of every age. If we start to co-generate and deliberately design for intergenerational collaboration, we can find solutions to complex present-day problems and future challenges. The global well-being of tomorrow depends on getting this right today!