What is gerontology and why is it important in financial advisement? The study of gerontology is the study of aging, or as the experts like to say, “The study of life from the womb to the tomb.”
Most people think gerontology is the same as geriatrics which is a medical specialty focused only on the older population. Instead, gerontology is the study of what affects us throughout our lives: fetal health, genetics and epigenetics, socioeconomic factors, education, work and living environments, lifestyle choices, relationships. All of these play a role in how well we age and how long we live.
When it comes to guiding clients in their wealth management, it is not enough for financial advisors to know our society is engaged in an unprecedented age boom where we are living longer. In fact, by 2035 for the first time in American history, we will have more people over age 65 than children under age 18. Longevity is the new normal.
The focus for gerontologists is to look for patterns and indicators on how to achieve healthspans that equal lifespans. When it comes to financial advisement, advisors need to embrace the tenets of gerontology: biology, psychology and sociology or what is known as the BioPsychoSocial framework to help steer clients on aligning wealthspan with healthspan and lifespan. This becomes both a philosophy and a practical guide to help clients achieve their financial goals.
This paper is an exploration into how our decision-making is impacted across the lifecourse and how different priorities and purpose are driving those decisions as we enter into a new third age. Our purpose is to provide new insights for advisors about life transitions and to expand the role of a financial advisor through a grounding in gerontology. Embracing this fresh approach helps advisors build trusting relationships with clients. Advisors become the navigators toward homeostasis—the essential balance between healthspan, wealthspan and lifespan.
In the context of lifecourse planning, we weave together the journey through early adult life, which in pure demographic terms means millennials (also known as the “echo boomers”) born between 1981- 1996—society’s largest age cohort totaling just over 83 million adults. In this phase, most are seeking self-discovery, creation of careers and families and the building of social connections both personally and professionally.
Mid-life, which right now is our Gen Xers born between 1965 and 1980, is about increasing life’s responsibilities, maximizing personal and professional potential and starting to focus on passions and purpose.
For baby boomers who were born between 1946-1964, this huge age cohort of 75 million who were recently eclipsed by millennials, is about leading the way in “disrupting aging” according to AARP. For the generation who ushered in both consumerism and counterculture revolutions, a reinvention of how and where we will live as we age is part of this group’s groove (just don’t call them “elders” or “elderly.”) The focus as we go is on finding meaning and relevancy, achieving quality relationships and beginning to plan for leaving a legacy.
What all three age demographics have in common is caregiving. One in four millennials care for an older parent or grandparent. Gen Xers are the largest caregiving cohort often called the classic sandwich generation caring for the younger and older generations who bookend their lives while eight in 10 also juggle their most productive and lucrative years at work. And boomers, whether retired or not, are caring for aging parents or spouses or other loved ones who are living well into their 80s, 90s and even entering what author Dan Buettner called the Blue Zones of centenarian-ville.
The impact of caregiving cannot be understated as its influence and impact on healthspans and wealthspans of these three generational demographics will be the focus of another important topic we will tackle. And, since one of the largest investments throughout our lives is our homes, we will also investigate the evolving and expanding choices, costs and conversations of where to live as we grow older whether that means adapting our homes for lifespan livability or seeking new adventures in transformative alternative communities.