A world leading academic has warned that businesses risk missing out on a significant growth opportunity if they fail to recognise the potential a rapidly ageing population presents.

Speaking at the inaugural Mature Marketing Summit held in Professor Tom Kirkwood CBE, Dean of Ageing at Newcastle University, urged people to shed the old view of elderly people as a burden and of ageing as a preordained, set path. Instead, argued Professor Kirkwood, it is a dynamic demographic which can offer huge amounts of experience and expertise to our economic and social fabric – and should be ignored by businesses at their peril.

Professor Tom Kirkwood, Dean for Ageing at Newcastle University, said at the event:

“There’s a widely held mistruth that human beings are programmed to expire. Instead, every fibre of our being is geared up towards survival. Until the final moment of our lives, our bodies are willing us to survive. That neatly encapsulates the misconceptions that have surrounded the ageing process for too long, and only serves to emphasise the reality that, in fact, our rapidly ageing population represents a significant opportunity – a belief shared by the Mature Marketing Association.

“Commercially, the opportunity is vast. Over 50s in the UK currently hold around 80% of the nation’s wealth, and as much as 40% of total UK annual consumer spending can be attributed to over 50s. But the opportunity may be even bigger than that, because good design is generic. Example after example shows that products designed to work for an older individual work for us all. When it comes to developing new products and services for the over 50s, the sky really is the limit.

“More broadly, though, we need to get away from the idea that older people all need help and are simply waiting to die. They don’t and they’re not. In fact, our older population is the most dynamic, most exciting and fastest-growing demographic around. Instead of thinking of our ageing population as a challenge, we should instead see it as an opportunity to learn from them, harness their experience and use it to help us flourish socially, economically and culturally.”

In response to the growing need to make the most of the opportunities presented by an ageing population, Newcastle is focusing its research and thinking through The Newcastle University Institute for Ageing (NUIA), Europe’s largest multi-disciplinary centre of expertise in ageing. Its focus is at the Newcastle Campus for Ageing and Vitality, a globally unique, large-scale development bringing together world-leading scientific and medical research with innovative health care, industry, civic agencies, and the public.

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