The global population aged 60-and-over will encompass more than one in five people by mid-century, rising from 900 million in 2015 to 2.1 billion in 2050, according to the World Health Organization.

California’s 60-plus cohort is expected to reach 12 million by 2035, up from 7.3 million in 2015.

Los Angeles County has a massive and rapidly growing population of older adults.

Spiraling health costs and the risks of financial insecurity rightly stir concerns, but there is a silver lining. 

Increasing longevity has spurred unprecedented economic growth and new opportunities for personal fulfillment. Older individuals are generally healthier than their counterparts in generations past, and they seek to remain engaged. As markets evolve to meet their needs and aspirations, opportunities abound.

Charles Darwin recognized that survival is about adaptation, a quality that is as imperative for businesses as it is for species. The private sector has been at the forefront, opening new markets and building diverse workforces. Aging is its next frontier.

Americans over 50 control more than 80 percent of household wealth and account for $7.6 trillion in direct spending and related economic activity annually, according to Oxford Economics. Bank of America Merrill Lynch projects that the global spending of 60-and-over consumers will reach $15 trillion annually by 2020.

When it comes to housing, transportation, entertainment and food, 60-plus consumers are expected to account for at least 40 percent of consumption growth between 2015 and 2030. A golden age for financial services is being driven by the assets of older investors. Innovations in health services and devices, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals are ahead. From smart homes and cars to lifelong learning and travel, a lucrative market for products and services awaits.

But there’s more. Aging adults comprise a talent pool that can power the businesses and enhance the communities of the future. They are disrupting retirement norms to pursue lifelong work, second careers and volunteering. 

This profile defies outmoded stereotypes. In fact, older adults bolster the economy through their consumption. They contribute experience and stability to workplaces and civic endeavors, providing nuanced thinking and know-how. Age-diverse teams are increasingly the teams of choice for complex problem-solving challenges.

Unfortunately, unfounded ageism continues to cast a cloud, devaluing the talents of older adults. Too often, they are shut out of hiring, promotions, training and even volunteer opportunities.

In the same way that other movements have changed culture and perceptions, aging needs to take center stage.

Local and regional government initiatives such as Purposeful Aging Los Angeles, led by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, place an age-friendly lens on city and county activities. But civic leadership is not enough. It’s time for the business community to step up.

Businesses are uniquely positioned to advance smart policies and change attitudes—to champion the needs and wants, as well as the potential, of older adults. They can challenge bias and adopt strategies that evaluate employees of every age without stigma. They can recognize the contributions of older workers and engage them in planning and product development.

The aging megatrend will test the leadership of every CEO. Each corporate board should develop a “longevity strategy” to address the growing impact of the demographic shift. Awareness of the issues should spread to every corner of their companies. The issues are too big—the numbers too compelling—to ignore.

Older adults can be a blessing for business. Awareness and action can improve lives and offer benefits to the broader society and the bottom-line.

Paul Irving is chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, chairman of the board of Encore.org, and distinguished scholar in residence at the University of Southern California’s Davis School of Gerontology.

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