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Women Aged 50-Plus: An Irrefutable Engine Powering The Global Longevity Economy

By this point, you may have read a thing or two about population aging—you know, powerful statistics like the fact that the current global population of 1.9 billion adults aged 50 and over is expected to grow by 70 percent (to 3.2 billion) by 2050. You may have read a book called “The Longevity Economy” or even heard the term “Global Longevity Economy,” both of which describe the sweeping economic contributions people aged 50 and over make to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), job creation, and income generation. If so, you’ve perhaps read in the Global Longevity Economy Outlook that in 2020, people aged 50-plus contributed $45 trillion to the global GDP; by 2050, their contribution is expected to more than double to $118 trillion.

What you may not know and what may not surprise you is that women at midlife and beyond are largely responsible for contributing to the growth of the Global Longevity Economy. The current global population of 605 million women aged 60-plus as of 2020 is expected to nearly double by 2050, reaching 1.14 billion. Through their paid work, caregiving, and spending, the global 50-plus population of women is making significant and increasing contributions within and across economies.

Progress to Celebrate

On March 8, 2023 — International Women’s Day— AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins spoke at the Forbes 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi to an audience of nearly 600 women from around the world, challenging them to harness the opportunities emerging from a growing aging population.

Aligned with International Women’s Day, AARP released a brief at the Forbes 30/50 Summit that I had the pleasure of writing with the support of AARP’s Thought Leadership team. The brief, “How Women 50-Plus Are Driving The Global Longevity Economy,” is the most recent addition to AARP’s Longevity Economy Outlook Series. The brief largely celebrates economic contributions of women aged 50-plus around the world. And make no mistake, there is much to celebrate.

As described in the brief, we know, for instance, that the proportion of older women in the global workforce has increased since 1990 and that women of all ages are showing higher rates of entrepreneurship than in generations past. For example, in the United States, companies owned by women of all ages contribute almost $3 trillion to the nation’s economy and are responsible for 23-million jobs. In developing countries, there are 8 to 10 million small and medium enterprises with at least one female owner. We also know that as “Chief Consumption Officers” of households, women around the world and across all ages drive 64 percent of consumer purchases. In fact, by 2028, women are projected to control 75 percent of discretionary spending globally.

Progress to Be Made

As much as we can and must celebrate the economic contributions of women 50-plus, we cannot do so without acknowledging the forces inhibiting them from contributing even more. Despite the economic power women aged 50-plus wield relative to many of those who came before them, they are not set up to reach their full economic potential. In the United States, for instance, working women on average still earn just 83 cents for every dollar compared with their male counterparts. (This gap is wider for Black and Hispanic/Latino women.) Economic insecurity remains an insidious issue for older women around the world. Globally, poverty rates and economic insecurity among older women not only persist but in fact have risen significantly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a UN advocacy brief, approximately one-third of women in that age group are food insecure, and only 26 percent of women are covered under a pension plan.

“How Women 50-Plus Are Driving The Global Longevity Economy” builds on previous research demonstrating that economic inclusion of older women is advantageous for societies across income levels. However, Age International research shows us that older women still experience short- and long-term economic disadvantages compared to their male counterparts, due to the nature of their work, the nature of how they work, and the nature of intersectional discrimination.

According to a report by AARP and FP Analytics, women represent 63 percent of informal workers around the world. By working in the informal economy, they are not sufficiently protected by safety regulations nor are they typically able to benefit from contributory pension systems.  The same report also highlights the extent to which older women—and particularly those working in the informal economy—experience discrimination in the workplace. According to the report, “41 percent of low-income, 46 percent of middle-income, and 31 percent of high-income countries lack protection against ageism in the workplace, while the World Bank estimates that worldwide, 2.4 billion working-age women lack equal employment protection, compounding gender inequality.” An AARP report found that in 2018, the U.S. economy lost $850 billion in GDP due to age discrimination, one-third of which was directly related to women’s involuntary retirement. AARP initiatives like the Living Learning Earning Longer Collaborative use research and industry partnerships to dispel harmful forces like workplace discrimination because we know that discriminating against older workers not only disadvantages those workers but economies more broadly.

In acknowledging some of the forces suppressing potentially additive contributions of women aged 50-plus to the Global Longevity Economy, we of course also must recognize ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cast a long shadow on our lives. Leading up to the beginning of the pandemic, older women represented one of the fastest-growing groups in the U.S. workforce. However, AARP’s Public Policy Institute has highlighted how the pandemic has driven a decline in the number of older working women—and that early in the pandemic, older women actually experienced some of the highest levels of pandemic-related unemployment compared with other groups of workers in the United States. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that labor participation rates for older women will rise, the fact of the matter is that older women continue to lag their pre-pandemic rates of labor force participation.

In addition to their paid work, we know that the largely unpaid-or-underpaid caregiving women age 50-plus provide fuels economies. Households in which children are cared for by grandparents—including in countries facing conflict, disease, and high poverty rates—are increasingly prevalent around the world. Even without the added complexities of the pandemic, research conducted by AARP and The National Alliance for Caregivers has shown that family caregiving can be taxing in a variety of ways. According to AARP research, family caregivers—the majority of whom are women—may spend upward of 25 percent of their own income, and often more for Black and Hispanic/Latino caregivers, to provide care for their loved ones. That said, whether the care women aged 50-plus provide is for aging family members, loved ones with disabilities, grandchildren, or some combination thereof, we know that the pandemic has shifted the caregiving landscape.

Reconciling two truths

Heather MCulloch, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at The Aspen Institute Financial Security Program, asks in her leadership of the “Women in the Economy” project: “What would economies look like if they were designed to work for women?” Well, they would look different, especially when we consider intersectionality of identities and experiences.

When we talk about older women’s contributions to the Global Longevity Economy, we are grappling with two truths: Women aged 50+ are contributing enormously to its growth and if the economy was truly designed with 50-plus women’s success in mind, they would be able to contribute even more. The implications we describe in “How Women 50-Plus Are Driving The Global Longevity Economy” point to broad areas of global advocacy and intervention across public, private, and non-profit sectors. Indeed, it will take a village to truly realize 50-plus women’s contributions to the Global Longevity Economy.

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