Media

How Serena Williams is Redefining "Retirement"

Pexels-cottonbro-5741051Watching Serena Williams play tennis in the first round of the U.S. Open on Monday night, August 29, was like watching an unstoppable force of nature. The 40-year-old Williams defeated a 27-year-old opponent, not easily but convincingly. Yet earlier in August, in Vogue magazine, Williams shocked the sports world by announcing her retirement from tennis.

Normally, when you hear the word "retirement," you think of the traditional meaning: older generations ending their work lives to move on to something else. But in the case of Serena Williams, she was making a different kind of life choice, announcing to the world that she wanted to grow her family rather than remain in the sport as arguably the best tennis player in the world. Here is the way she expressed it:

"I have never liked the word retirement. It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me. A few years ago I quietly started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after that, I started a family. I want to grow that family."

I think her use of the word "evolution" as a label for what Williams is feeling is very appropriate. In fact, it strikes me that the concept of evolution just as easily applies to Boomers on the brink of "retirement." Like Williams, I have never liked the word "retirement." For several years, I have used the word "rewirement" to describe a new way of looking at retirement (after all, "rewired" is in the header of my blog).

I think the concept of rewiring is still relevant, but I also think evolving is an apt description for the collective advancement of Boomers into the next phase of our lives. The reality is that we go through phases that are not hard and fast with defined beginnings and ends; rather we evolve. Recognizing that evolutionary process may make it easier to understand and accept the phases of life that have passed and are still to come.

So thank you, Serena, for redefining retirement. You are showing the world that you can be the best you can be in your career and love what you do -- but still acknowledge that there are indeed other things in life that may be of greater importance. That's something Boomers would do well to acknowledge. Life's challenges and choices are not always easy, but we continue to evolve.

Whether or not she wins the U.S. Open, Serena Williams is teaching all of us a lesson about competing at the highest level -- in both sports and in life.

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The Price You Pay for Being Grey

Screen Shot 2022-08-25 at 12.19.16 PMA current controversy in Canada dramatically highlights the potentially damaging effects of ageism.

Canada TV anchor Lisa LaFlamme has been removed as the anchor of CTV National News, a program she has hosted since 2011. The 58-year old LaFlamme claimed she was "blindsided" by the decision, which is believed to be related to her grey hair. LaFlamme stopped dyeing her hair during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing her hair to return to its natural grey color, telling viewers that it was "liberating."

It was reported by news sources that Michael Melling, a senior executive at CTV News, wanted to to know who approved the decision to "let Lisa's hair go grey." It appeared to be suspiciously coincidental that LaFlamme, who recently won Best News Anchor at the Canadian Screen Awards, was let go soon after she let her hair go grey. LaFlamme had been with the news organization for thirty-five years.

When furor erupted over the firing decision, Bell Media, the owner of CTV, said LaFlamme was terminated due to "changing viewer habits." The company did not comment on the hair color allegations, but said it regretted that the decision "may have left viewers with the wrong impression."

One company, Dove Canada, immediately responded by launching a campaign on social media. The company changed its gold logo to grey. While the campaign doesn't specifically mention LaFlamme, the timing is obvious. On Instagram, Dove said:

"Aging is beautiful. We should all be able to do it on our own terms, and without any consequences. That's why we're going grey, and donating $100,000 to Catalyst -- a Canadian nonprofit organization dedicated to helping build inclusive workplaces for all women. Join us by turning your profile picture greyscale, and tag #KeepTheGrey."

The Dove Canada campaign reinforced speculation that the firing was influenced by ageism. On Twitter, LaFlamme stated in a video, "I'm still shocked and saddened. At 58, I still thought I'd have a lot more time to tell more of the stories that impact our daily lives."

Image from Dove Canada social media campaign

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Riding Out Financial Ups and Downs if You're Retired

Pexels-olya-kobruseva-7873553Retirees tend to live on a few income streams, typically made up of (1) Social Security monthly payments (2) RMDs (Required Minimum Distributions) from deferred income retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, (3) pensions and other long-term investments and (4) savings accounts. Financial conditions affect all of these financial vehicles one way or the other, especially if retirement, pension or savings are invested in stocks or bonds. Last year, for example, the stock market probably rewarded most retirees with healthy gains, while so far this year, stocks haven't fared nearly as well.

Currently, there is another factor that more directly affects retirees: Inflation. As we've seen over the past several months, inflation has caused a spike in the prices we pay at the gas pump and in the grocery store. In fact, prices are broadly higher everywhere, and for those retirees living on a tight budget to begin with, that is not good news. A recent hike in Social Security benefits due to the higher cost of living didn't help so much because, at the same time, Medicare premiums went up.

So what can retirees do to ride out the financial ups and downs we're experiencing? A recent article in The New York Times by financial writer Tara Siegel Bernard cites a few sound strategies. Retirees who turn 72 must take RMDs from retirement accounts, so some of your options are limited, but you still have control over your other assets. Here are some suggestions from the article:

  • Reframing: Covering your needs is more important than spending money on wants. Think about how much of your basic living needs can be covered by such regular income as Social Security and pensions and keep withdrawals for other items to a minimum.
  • A Cash Bucket: Set aside cash to cover a year's worth of basic expenses not accounted for through Social Security and pension income. Use this "bucket" when necessary instead of withdrawing from investment accounts.
  • Guardrails: Consider being flexible with annual withdrawals from investment accounts instead of being locked in to the same percentage or withdrawal amount. Consider taking higher amounts when financial conditions are favorable and lower amounts when they are unfavorable.
  • Check up: Do periodic reality checks based on your retirement age and anticipated longevity. Look at your entire portfolio and, using the widely accepted withdrawal rate of 4 percent annually, estimate how long your money will last if you withdraw at that rate. You could also determine how higher or lower annual withdrawal rates will affect your overall picture.

Of course, none of these strategies should be applied in a vacuum. It is best to do your own evaluation in conjunction with a Certified Financial Planner, who can objectively assess your unique situation and help you determine which of these strategies, or others, will work best for you.

Read more about advice for handling retirement during a financial downturn here:
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/11/your-money/retiring-recession-financial-math.html?

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Everyday Ageism is No Small Problem

Pexels-andrea-piacquadio-3831634New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined the prevalence of everyday ageism, demonstrating that exposures were "associated with multiple indicators of poor mental and physical health." The study employed a newly developed multidimensional "Everyday Ageism Scale" to measure exposures.

Among 2,035 adults ranging in age from 50 to 80 years old, most respondents in the study (93.4 percent) reported regularly experiencing one or more forms of everyday ageism. Internalized ageism was reported by 81.2 percent of respondents, ageist messages by 65.2 percent of respondents, and interpersonal ageism by 44.9 percent of respondents. Mean Everyday Ageism Scale scores were higher for several sociodemographic groups. For example, ages 65 to 80 experienced higher exposures than ages 50 to 64, women experienced higher exposures than men, and White and Hispanic adult respondents experienced higher exposures than Black adult respondents.

The study showed that everyday ageism was associated with poor physical and health across four outcomes examined: Fair or poor physical health, Chronic health conditions, Fair or poor mental health and Depressive symptoms. Odds of negative health outcomes increased and the associated number of chronic health conditions also increased. The researchers stated:

"Everyday ageism may affect health outcomes via multiple pathways. Ageism may hamper quality of older adults' interactions with health care clinicians. Ageist cues, beliefs and interpersonal interactions may serve as stereotype threats, primes for stereotype embodiment, and models of normative expectations for older adults, all of which have been associated with poor health outcomes. Accordingly, everyday ageism may be a chronic stressor in the lives of older adults. ... Older adults with poor health may experience more ageist messages and discrimination (and discrimination based on health and disability) and personally relevant evidence supporting negative beliefs associated age with health."

While major incidents of ageism have been shown to be associated with poorer health and well-being among older adults, this study is unique in its focus on routine types of age-based discrimination, prejudice, and stereotyping that older adults encounter in their day-to-day lives, known as everyday ageism.

We should all be vigilant in recognizing all forms of ageism, whether external or internal. As we age, we should speak up when we are confronted with ageist attitudes, not practice ageism toward others and not beat ourselves up for being old. As this study indicates, everyday ageism in all of these ways can negatively affect our physical and mental health.

If you are interested in the full report of this study, click on the PDF link below.

Download JAMA-Ageism

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A Perspective on Ageism from an Industry Insider

Pexels-marcus-aurelius-6787970Kirsten Flanik is the 55-year old CEO of BBDO New York. BBDO Worldwide is a major marketing communications agency with over 200 locations globally. Flanik spoke about ageism in advertising at an "Ad Age Remotely" online session on April 27. As a 50-plus woman in a senior management position in the advertising business, Flanik brings an informed perspective, enhanced by the fact that one of BBDO's clients is AARP.

I attended the session and got to hear Flanik firsthand. She pointed out that, for the first time, five generations are in the workforce, even though the advertising industry "tends to skew young." She believes that age should not be a factor in hiring for industry positions as long as an individual is intellectually and creatively capable. Flanik said senior workers in advertising should be valued because they bring "different experiences and perspectives" to the business. She admitted, however, that ageism is a real issue in hiring for the advertising industry. Despite this, she is encouraged by the fact that the percentage of 50-plus employees in the workforce is higher than ever. She also noted that there are more 55-plus professionals freelancing than ever before and that these freelancers bring valuable experience to agency work.

An interesting point Flanik brought up when it comes to senior employees: Advertising agencies need to acknowledge that, as people get older, they may face health issues. Management needs to be tolerant and not be biased against older workers because of such issues. She used herself as an example, sharing that she had cancer in her early 50s. She felt that agency management and personnel embraced her rather than viewing the illness as a weakness, which is sometimes the case in the workplace. She said one mistaken perception of older workers is that they are in constant need of help. This simply isn't true. She has found older workers to be strong, resilient and self-reliant.

Perception also plays a key role when agencies and their clients think about consumers, Flanik said. She cited the statistic that 56 cents of ever dollar is spent by consumers who are 50-plus in age, yet agencies and clients still seem to follow the myth that the consumer becomes loyal to a brand at a younger age. That is one reason agencies and clients target consumers in the 18 to 49 age group. She believes that perception needs to change to the realization that "you can become brand loyal at any age." She also said 50-plus tropes are a problem. For example, in advertising, the 50-plus consumer is often portrayed as not understanding technology. Another common portrayal is the older couple, walking on the beach in retirement. Such perceptions are not the way 50-plus consumers see themselves, however. These older consumers may be very comfortable with technology, and many of them may still be in the workplace rather than retired.

Flanik was proud of the fact that BBDO recently hired a global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. She said that DE&I includes sensitivity to race, gender and age. She acknowledged the advertising industry is generally behind in diversity and believes a diverse workplace is essential. The goal of BBDO New York is to be "representative of the U.S. population by 2025" and she indicated the agency is 1/3 of the way there.

It was encouraging to hear Flanik's personal commitment to overcoming ageism as a senior executive in the advertising business -- because this is an industry that is often assailed for its orientation toward hiring young and targeting younger demographics. Hopefully Kirsten Flanik is not the only enlightened CEO running the office of a large agency. 

Photo by Marcus Aurelius

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Growing Old in America: A Reality Check

Pexels-marcus-aurelius-6787440If you currently draw Social Security benefits, you'll notice a 5.9 percent increase in your monthly check beginning in 2022. It's the most substantial COLA (Cost Of Living Adjustment) for older Americans in thirty years. At the same time, if your health insurance is original Medicare, the standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B increases from $148.50 to $170.10, in addition to an increase in the Part B annual deductible from $203 to $233.

This is a good example of one of the major dilemmas of growing old in America, especially for those who are on a fixed income. As the government giveth, the government taketh away. For many of us, the bump in Social Security will quickly be eaten up by inflationary prices along with the rise in Medicare costs.

Perhaps more to the point, the push-and-pull relationship of Social Security and Medicare is symbolic of the under-appreciation of America's elders. Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, expressed it very well in his recent opinion piece for The Hill entitled "It Shouldn't be This Hard to Grow Old in America." He wrote:

"The idea of growing old in America today is becoming more uncertain and even scary, and it shouldn't be. This is one of the wealthiest nations on earth. While many seniors are fortunate to have adequate retirement income, affordable health care, and the means to live independently after decades of working, millions of others do not. ...

The two bedrock social insurance programs of the 20th century - Social Security and Medicare - have not been sufficiently updated to reflect seniors' 21st century needs (though serious efforts finally are underway in Congress to do so).  ...

Expanding Medicare and Social Security and allowing prescription price negotiation have overwhelming support from majorities of Americans across party lines. We should not have to fight to enact commonsense improvements for our most vulnerable citizens. ...

Aging in America should never be an intimidating prospect for anyone. Whatever it takes - a shift in societal attitudes, a political re-alignment, or the swelling senior population exercising its own power and voting in its own interests - we must rise to a higher standard for elder care."

The above are excerpts from Richtman's well-reasoned argument in a publication whose readership is largely national politicians and federal government officials. While one can only hope it doesn't fall on deaf ears, it's important to note that the "Build Back Better" legislation, which includes significant benefits for seniors, is currently stalled in Congress.

America is aging, and the segment of the population over age 55 is growing more rapidly than any other. The wealthiest minority of 55-plus Americans continue to get richer and secure their own retirement, but the majority of older Americans have less than adequate retirement savings and struggle financially when they retire. In fact, many in the 55-plus age group will need to continue to work well into their 70s if they want to experience any sort of comfortable retirement.

At some point, legislators -- and all members of American society --  must recognize that the precarious nature of many older Americans' lives will catch up with us. Growing old in America should not be "more uncertain and even scary" for anyone.

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"Where's the Beef?"

WherestheBeefIn 1984, a series of commercials for the burger chain, Wendy's, created a sensation. It resulted in a catchphrase that became so popular it was used in the Democratic presidential debate that year: Walter Mondale asked Gary Hart, "Where's the beef?"

As you'll see in the video below, three elderly ladies were featured in the ad, with Clara Peller asking the now immortal question. The commercial was admittedly humorous and playful, but it certainly did not portray seniors in the best light. 

Fast forward to today and we still experience ageism in advertising, as I wrote about in a previous blog post. I referenced an AARP article by AgeWave founder Ken Dychtwald. In the article, Dychtwald writes that "advertising is still far too often out of sync with the reality of today's older, more seasoned buyer." He quotes Chip Conley, founder of the Modern Elder Academy, who agrees: “Many ads are viewed by the older population as stereotypical and patronizing. Most advertisers receive a failing grade in their efforts to understand and relate to older adults.”

So now I want to ask marketers everywhere: When it comes to seniors, "Where's the beef?"

It's a sad fact that when marketers aren't making fun of seniors (which they often do), they are ignoring us. Big mistake.

A recent article on Entrepreneur.com cites data about the "silver economy," a phrase the European Parliament used in 2015, that means “the sum of all economic activity that serve the needs of people aged 50 and over, including the products and services they purchase directly and the further economic activity this spending generates.”

This data from The Brookings Institute should be reason enough for marketers to sit up and pay attention to the silver economy: 

"...seniors are significant players in the economy: There are currently 750 million seniors in the world, and by 2030, there will be one billion. Seniors in the consumer class are expected to grow by as much as 66% and are the wealthiest age group in the world (alongside older professionals aged 45-64 years). The number of seniors grows by 3.2% every year compared to an overall population growth rate of 0.8%."

Entrepreneur.com laments, "65-plus is often a discarded demographic." As a 65-plus Boomer who retired from the marketing profession, I'm amazed and perturbed that leading brands and their agencies simply do not fathom that we Boomers are equivalent to a prime A1 cut of beef as a target demographic. Marketers, here's some news for you: WE BUY STUFF! Not only that, research shows the Boomer consumer is discerning, willing to consider different products, open to change and tech savvy. You and I know it. I wish marketers understood it too. Hey, marketers, the answer to the question, "Where's the beef?" is RIGHT HERE. It's not the young 'uns, it's the Boomer audience!

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New Book Shows How World War II Helped Launch "Boomer Brands"


Not So Funny

Dan-cook-MCauAnBJeig-unsplashI cheered when I read well-known aging expert Ken Dychtwald's recent article for AARP entitled "Ageism Is Alive and Well in Advertising." In it, Dychtwald uses several excellent examples of "Ageist" vs. "Respectful" ads, largely created by marketing agencies for their clients. As you can intuit, the "Ageist" examples debase seniors in a variety of ways, often ridiculing their age and negatively portraying them. This is not an occasional transgression -- it is an all-too-common practice among ad agencies, typically peopled by younger generations, who routinely make fun of the 50-plus crowd. I know, because for a time I worked in a large ad agency where I was clearly an elder statesman in my fifties.

In the article, Dychtwald writes that "advertising is still far too often out of sync with the reality of today's older, more seasoned buyer." He quotes Chip Conley, founder of the Modern Elder Academy, who agrees: “Many ads are viewed by the older population as stereotypical and patronizing. Most advertisers receive a failing grade in their efforts to understand and relate to older adults.”

As Dychtwald cites in his article, ageism in advertising is not a wise marketing strategy, because the 55-plus audience controls 70 percent of all personal wealth in the United States, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve. What's more Boomers resent it -- in a 2121 AARP survey, 62 percent of consumers age 50-plus agreed with the statement, "I wish ads had more realistic images of people my age." Nearly half (47 percent) agreed that "ads of people my age reinforce outdated stereotypes." That doesn't bode well for advertisers who continue to propagate ads that bash Boomers.

I wrote about this very issue exactly two years ago in my post, "Marketing the Old Age Myth:"

As a retired marketing professional, it is especially painful for me to see how today's marketers characterize older Americans. As I watch television or flip through magazines, I notice ads that incessantly pitch medications to the elderly, poke fun at aging or portray anyone with gray hair as a doddering, incompetent sedentary fool.

Here we are two years later and, as Dychtwald points out, things haven't gotten all that much better. Thankfully, Dychtwald writes, there are some marketers who are more enlightened today and treat seniors with respect. But not enough of them do so. That isn't just bad for the advertising business, it's bad for our society in general. 

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New Book Shows How World War II Helped Launch "Boomer Brands"


New Book Shows How World War II Helped Launch "Boomer Brands"

Mockup2I'm excited to announce the publication of my new book, WORLD WAR BRANDS: World War II and the Rise of the Modern American Brand. This unique book takes a fresh look at the impact of World War II on America from a marketing perspective.

In this book you'll learn:

  • How Coca-Cola, Disney and other great American brands played an integral role in World War II
  • Why some American brands chose to do business with Nazi Germany
  • How television influenced the rise of the modern American brand
  • Plus, see 38 vintage ads that reflect the wartime economy.

The post-war economy led to the rise of the American middle class and spawned a new generation known as "Baby Boomers." The war fueled strong economic growth that turned the country into a major global force. Post-war America became a bubbling cauldron of scores of inventive, innovative brands. When television came along, marketing those brands rose to a whole new level.

WORLD WAR BRANDS covers it all. Included are many stories about some of the best-known brands of the '40s and '50s. These are the brands Boomers grew up with, so this book is an adrenalin shot of nostalgia!

Kirkus Reviews calls WORLD WAR BRANDS "a convincing history about the role of World War II in developing brand consciousness among consumers in the United States." Sherry Tuffin, a reviewer for Reedsy Discovery, gives the book five stars and writes, "After reading WORLD WAR BRANDS you may never look at your favorite brands in the same way. What do I think of this book? In the words of Tony the Tiger, a brand superstar, 'It’s Gr-r-r-r-r-eat'!"

WORLD WAR BRANDS is available in paperback and eBook formats from all major booksellers.

Read a free sample chapter here.


The Four Pillars Revisited

Screen Shot 2021-06-15 at 1.19.29 PM
Last September, I published four posts about the "Four Pillars of the New Retirement," a landmark study by Edward Jones, Age Wave and The Harris Poll that delved into living well in retirement in four key areas: Health, Family, Purpose and Finances.  This study has now been updated to reflect the specific impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the perceptions of each generation about retirement; the new study is appropriately titled "What a Difference a Year Makes."

According to the study, 76 percent of Americans across all generations say the pandemic helped them "refocus on what's most important in life." There were other important statistics that came out of the study. I've cherry-picked a few data points that should be of most interest to Boomers:

  • 61 percent of retirees say the pandemic gave them "more appreciation for what makes life meaningful"
  • 53 percent of retirees say they now have “greater empathy and compassion for people who are struggling in ways that they are not”
  • 69 percent of retirees believe "having a sense of purpose in life is important to achieving optimal wellbeing"
  • 67 percent of retirees say "spending time with loved ones provides them with the greatest source of meaning, purpose and fulfillment"
  • nearly all retirees (93 percent) believe it’s important to feel useful in retirement, and 87 percent agree that being useful actually “makes them feel youthful”
  • 89 percent of retirees now believe “there should be more ways for retirees to put their talents and knowledge to use for the benefit of their communities and society”
  • 66 percent of pre-retirees age 50-plus now cite healthcare and long-term care expenses as a major worry
  • 70 percent of Americans across all generations see the pandemic as a "financial wake-up call," and 69 million people say the pandemic altered their retirement timing.

The creators of the study reached some interesting conclusions, among them:

  1. "Powerful forces have converged to reshape retirement, including the COVID-19 pandemic, altering retirement timing and savings for tens of millions of Americans."
  2. "The financial fallout from the pandemic has been unequally distributed."
  3. "Women's confidence in their retirement savings continues to drop while men's is rebounding."
  4. There is a potential wellspring of retirees interested in being a force for social good."
  5. The majority of retirees wish they had done a better job planning for both the financial and the non-financial aspects of retirement."

I would add my own reflection on the study: Americans in general, and Boomers in particular, have proven to be remarkably resilient. Even in the face of crisis and tragedy, Boomers find a way to rise up and prevail.

You can download a copy of both the original and updated studies here:
https://www.edwardjones.com/us-en/market-news-insights/retirement/new-retirement

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