Get set for the ‘silver dollar’ — an economic wave worth $20 trillion that’s heading our way
Older consumers and workers are driving the so-called “silver economy”. (ABC News: Claire Moodie)
Many Australians may not be aware, but an enormous, fast-growing market is on the way and it’s estimated to be worth trillions of dollars globally.
- The market of older consumers is estimated to be worth $20 trillion worldwide
- Over 55s now hold more than half Australia’s wealth
- Some savvy businesspeople are already looking to capitalise on the “silver dollar”
Dubbed the “silver economy”, the term encapsulates the consumer and employment opportunities offered by the ageing population, with people living and working for longer.
In coming years everything from tourism to healthcare is likely to be increasingly geared and marketed towards this growing demographic.
Catching the silver wave
Perth businesswoman Natasha Winburn-Clarke is one of those who has positioned herself to capitalise on the booming older economy.
Natasha Winburn-Clarke (right) and her colleague Libby Wyatt prepare and home deliver additive- and preservative-free gourmet meals. (ABC News: Claire Moodie)
The former food and wine consultant both caters for and employs people over 50 at her gourmet frozen meals business.
It all started four years ago when she and her two children were at home sick and Ms Winburn-Clarke raced out to the local supermarket in search of sustenance.
“There was nothing there that I wanted to serve my family,” she said.
“I realised very quickly that there was a gap in the market for high-end frozen meals.”
The experience sparked a new enterprise in preservative- and additive-free cuisine which she home delivers and sells from outlets in the Perth suburbs of Cottesloe and Applecross.
As well as working families, older customers have become one of her biggest markets.
“[It’s] anyone over 50 who is either buying for their parents who’re in their 80s or 90s, or for themselves, ” she said.
“… They can’t be bothered spending four hours on a boeuf bourguignon on a Wednesday night, yet they are happy to part with a bit of cash and get something really high quality.”
Working families and older consumers are Natasha Winburn-Clarke’s biggest markets. (ABC News: Claire Moodie)
The power of the baby boomers
With Australians living longer — and over 55s holding more than half of the nation’s wealth — their spending potential is substantial.
The European Commission recently estimated that by 2020 the private spending power of the elderly would reach $US15 trillion ($20 trillion) globally.
Statistics show Australia’s over 55s hold half of the nation’s wealth. (ABC News: Claire Moodie)
But, it’s not just about products and services.
It’s also about employment and boosting opportunities for the growing number of people who both need and desire to work for longer.
A study commissioned by the EU earlier this year said the “silver economy” should be connected to “a positive and socially inclusive identity for older adults”.
While she was open to younger staff, Ms Winburn-Clarke said mature workers were a “good fit” for her business.
Increasingly, she said, her older customers wanted advice on nutrition and a social interaction with someone to whom they could relate.
Sometimes, it could be the only conversation they had that day.
Business owner Natasha Winburn-Clarke (right) says 54-year-old assistant Karen MacDonald is a ‘good fit’ for her business. (ABC News: Marcus Alborn)
When 54-year-old Karen MacDonald was recommended by a mutual friend, Ms Winburn-Clarke realised she had struck gold.
“Karen walked through the doors and immediately started gushing about the product, she could identify with it,” she said.
“She had an elderly mother as well.
“To me it was a bit of a lightbulb moment because I thought, ‘OK, here’s someone who is slightly older but who could really sell the brand because she actually lives the life’.
“And from a business owners’ perspective, she was reliable and I could really count on her.”
Ageism rife in the workplace
It later turned out Ms MacDonald came with a financial bonus.
She made her new employer aware of a Federal Government scheme that provides incentives to businesses that employ older workers.
According to a recent survey from the WA Equal Opportunities Commission, people in their 40’s and over are finding it increasingly hard to find work. (ABC News: Claire Moodie)
The program is one of several measures set up to help mature-aged workers get back into the workforce and it has been welcomed by seniors’ groups.
A recent national survey found that up to one-third of employers were reluctant to hire workers over a certain age and, for more than two-thirds of this group, that age was over 50.
For Ms MacDonald, ageism in the workplace made no sense.
“I think being older myself, you’ve [got] the life experience … the knowledge that you gather along the way,” she said.
54-year-old Karen MacDonald says older workers need to be valued for their experience and skills.
“I think we’re reliable, we want to work.
“We’re an ageing population. People don’t retire anymore, they are working until their 70s, well into their 80s. And, you know, why shouldn’t we?
“I think the door should be open and more employers should take note of people over 50. Give them a fair chance.”
More workers means more dollars
But the Council on the Ageing was concerned ageist stereotypes were still having a negative impact on older consumers and workers.
It held a national policy forum called “safeguarding the silver economy” earlier this year to raise awareness of the challenges.
Ian Yates says Australians are working for longer, often because they enjoy it. (ABC News: Marco Catalano)
“Many older Australians often experience age discrimination and are vulnerable to exploitation, both in the workplace and in complex consumer markets,” council chief executive Ian Yates said.
“In order to fully capitalise on the benefits and opportunities of an ageing population, we need to move past negative stereotypes to better identify and meet the needs of a dynamic, diverse group of older Australians.”
Mr Yates welcomed the Federal Government’s range of initiatives to boost mature-aged employment, but he said more needed to be done.
He pointed to New Zealand’s diverse mix of policies as something Australia could learn from.
“In New Zealand, the participation of mature-age workers from roughly 50 upwards into the 70s is significantly higher,” he said.
“If mature-age workforce participation increased by 5 per cent, the estimates are that there would be $48 billion a year injected into the Australian economy.”