331: How Demographic Changes Are Impacting the Future for Retirees with Bradley Schurman
Today, I’m talking to Bradley Schurman. Bradley is the founder and CEO of The Super Age, a global strategic advisory firm that helps people tap into the economic power of “super-agers”–the older populations that will soon outnumber younger people in economies worldwide.
In his book The Super Age: Decoding Our Demographic Destiny, he explores how these changing demographics will affect government and business, touching all of our lives. He warns us that our failure to prepare for an aging world could lead to economic stagnation, more isolated populations, and accelerated decline. He also outlines how we can harness this generation’s skills and talents to enrich everyone’s lives for years to come.
In our conversation, we discuss why he believes the Super Age presents an extraordinary challenge and opportunity for our world–and how this impacts our notion of “retirement.”
We discuss how the Super Age will change our world for at least the next 25 years, the links between aging and inflation, and the private-sector innovation and public-sector adjustments that will define this transition for so many of us in the years to come.
In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- How Super Age nations are guaranteed to create massive socioeconomic change all over the world.
- Why our definition of retirement is currently changing in real-time.
- What makes someone a Super Ager–and how these traits keep older people healthier, more active, and better-connected.
- How changes to our economy are creating communities that look more like the families of the early 20th century.
- What Bradley expects to see happen to Medicare and Social Security to address these demographic changes.
- The factors that define our longevity–and what people are looking for as they seek out stability in this highly disruptive period.
- "Our future is one that needs to be inclusive because when we bring inclusivity into the conversation, when we ensure that people of all ages and abilities can work within this space together, our businesses perform better, our society functions at a higher rate." - @bradleyschurman
- "You don’t get that gold watch. You don’t get that fat pension. A lot of people leave work and find themselves saying, ‘What do I do with my time?" - @bradleyschurman
- The Super Age
- The Super Age: Decoding Our Demographic Destiny by Bradley Schurman
- Follow Bradley Schurman on LinkedIn
- Follow Bradley Schurman on Twitter
- AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities
- Roar: into the second half of your life (before it's too late) by Michael Clinton
- The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest by Dan Buettner
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Casey Weade: Brad, welcome to the podcast.
Bradley Schurman: You’re having me today.
Casey Weade: Well, I’m excited to have you, Brad. We had a pretty interesting conversation just to kick it off. I thought we might just run right into the interview, straight off of our conversation. And what I say is that we believe this is going to be a really great conversation because I can just feel the energy. You have a lot of energy around this topic. You’re really excited about the work that you’re doing and what you’re creating in the world.
And right before we are getting ready to make this transition, I felt like this is what was going to come up and that was, all right, let’s talk about this passion. Brad, what is this passion that you have right now? What’s driving you right now? Where’s it come from?
Bradley Schurman: I mean, this is the single greatest demographic transition the world has ever gone through. We are moving from being a mostly young society to being more age diverse, in fact, older. It may be hard for most people to believe, but by the end of this decade, there’ll be one-fifth of the population over the age of 65. In just a few short years later, the number of people over the age of 65 will outnumber those under 18, and that’s nationwide in the US. And we’ll join a club of Super Age nations around the world. And there are 35 of the largest economies, as well as some of the smallest. It’s really changing everything we do from social and economic norms.
Casey Weade: And so many seem to see this as a negative thing, and you seem to have quite a bit of positive energy around it. What gives you a positive slant here?
Bradley Schurman: If he made a mistake, there is as much peril as there is promise to any period of change. The question is, do we meet the change head-on? Or do we bear heads in the sand? I’m one for believing in the promise of America and the promise of our pragmatism at the end of the day. And we generally do figure things out here.
As we enter this period of transition, people will likely work longer than they have in previous years. But this in many ways is a return to a norm that we had in this country where people worked until they couldn’t anymore. Hard work is kind of central to our ethos. We’ll also have to reimagine our homes and our communities to be more adaptive of people that have diverse abilities because, yes, we do, in fact, acquire disability over our life course.
I wear glasses now. I’m not as strong necessarily as I used to be. I imagine if all holds true with my family traits, on the hearing aids at some point. All of these things we need to consider within the community if we’re going to make it work for everyone at the end of the day and really meet the needs of an age-diverse society.
Casey Weade: In your organization, Super Age, as a whole, you talk about the change that’s coming. You call yourself The Super Age global change makers. What change are you hoping to make specifically?
Bradley Schurman: Well, first and foremost, we are shifting away from a workforce that has been dominated by young people to one that will be more generationally diverse at the end of the day. And here’s why. We are running up against demographic realities. And the first and foremost reality is that younger people, Gen Z, is a small generation. In fact, it’s significantly smaller by about three million people than the millennial generation.
This is a big change because the boomers are now starting to enter retirement to some degree. We need to shift our attitudes towards traditional workforce age, which is 16 to 64, in order to reap the most economic potential as businesses from our aging society. This means that recruiting and retaining people that are past 65 becomes a central goal for organizations, and that’s where we really want to make change, first and foremost, is within the workforce.
If we are able to make those changes within the workforce, guess what happens? Not only are we financially healthier as individuals because we are able to maintain employment for longer periods of time, but we also maintain a healthier economy at the end of the day because if you’re earning, you’re spending, and if you’re spending, you’re feeding the economy. If you’re feeding the economy, everyone tends to do better at the end of the day. But in order to get there, we have to maintain this kind of constant drive towards creating greater inclusion in the workplace, greater inclusion in society. And that can be done through both compensation and benefits, whether or not we allow flexibility at work, or actually building spaces that are more inclusive of our needs at the end of the day.
Casey Weade: When we talk about this, I have a lot of our guests come on, and they talk about how retirement’s changing. They talk about retirement being dead, retiring the word retirement. And I think, yeah, that’s great, but I’m interviewing a very small group of Americans that are thinking in this way. I see the majority of individuals that we’re still working with as a firm, not thinking this way. They’re still thinking in a large part about retirement in the traditional sense. And I wonder, yes, we have demographics shifting rapidly and we also have the definition of retirement changing, but are they changing at the same rate? Are the demographics changing faster than our definition of retirement or vice versa?
Bradley Schurman: Yes, you’re absolutely right. Our definition of retirement is changing faster than perhaps public understanding of the change. So, there are actually historic precedents for this because the change in the ethos or the ideas of the people tend to lag behind the change that actually happens.
So, when Franklin Roosevelt put in the Social Security Act in 1935, it took about 30 years before Americans even accepted the idea of retirement as a life state, 30 years. Up until that point, people reject it. They said, “Why would I stop working? Why would I stop doing? Why would I stop contributing? That doesn’t make any sense.”
But by the 1960s, we had started to see an entire industry evolve that met the needs of a retired population, whether that be nursing homes, senior living communities, a big push by marketing firms to just sell travel and tours to people to live this active, aging lifestyle. The problem is our demographics really shifted and they’ve really been shifting quite dramatically over the past 25 years. So, after that last millennial was born, Gen Z got smaller.
And following Gen Z, Gen Alpha and these are kids from 0 to, I think, 12 now, Gen Alpha, they’re even smaller than Gen Z. So, there are no big numbers of people behind us, yet we still have all these people living within our society. And that’s putting some economic pressure on individuals.
To give you a point without overly explaining this, where we’re seeing the most growth in our economy in terms of return to work are actually people post-45. And in fact, we’re starting to see significant growth now in the post-65s. So, you’re absolutely right, Casey, when you say people aren’t really ready for this yet, this idea that they won’t retire. I’m not saying they won’t retire. It’s just think long and hard about when you retire and how you retire because retire isn’t a singular path anymore. You don’t get that gold watch. You don’t get that fat pension like you used to. A lot of people leave work or finding that they leave work now and they’re saying, “What do I do? What do I do with my time?”
And if they don’t have a purposeful existence of a vocation, volunteerism, they’ll find very quickly that the retirement is a bad deal. And as you know and I think your firm knows, most people don’t have enough money put aside. So, there’s just this economic reality that starts catching up with people. So, there will be a lag. There will be a lag. But even the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that, by the end of this decade, the number of older workers, at least workers over the age of 75, will at least double. So, it is changing, but it might just be below the surface for most people to realize.
Casey Weade: Yeah, because I don’t know what your sense is on this, but I see and hear individuals, my mom being one of those that doesn’t see the workplace evolving to be opening to hiring someone that’s in their 70s at this point. And she struggled to find the job that she wanted because I don’t know that the workplace is there yet. I feel like her demographics are ahead of the workplace, are ahead of the structural requirements to handle the shifting demographics.
Bradley Schurman: Yeah, I think that the workplace, though, is catching up. Businesses are built to survive, and survival is all about responding to change. And when change is presented, it’s how you deal with it. Well, I think we learned during the onset of The Great Resignation that too many older people left and too few young people had come in. And businesses have been grappling with this over the course of the past year.
What’s the first thing they did? Well, they doubled down on recruitment. They doubled down on recruitment. They offered greater salaries, greater benefits, which, of course, contributed to inflation. And they were fighting over young talent because that’s what HR managers, that’s what hiring managers knew how to do, go after young, inexperienced talent because that was cheap. Well, as the cost of that talent increases, as it gets harder and harder to find and get access to that talent, businesses start to think, well, wait a second, there must be other pools of labor somewhere else.
So, when we look at the data coming out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we are seeing a measurable increase in people over 55, over 65, over 75 coming back into the workforce. And that signal is, I think, what will be a long-term trend. Obviously, if we hit a recession, as most people predict, typically, the first people to leave work during a recession are those that are highest paid, they’re the first ones that typically are made redundant, and those typically are older workers. So, we’ll see how we weather in this recession, but again, we’re talking about a long-term trend here that was really sped up during COVID.
Casey Weade: And that was one of my questions I want to touch on. So, you do believe that the current worker shortage has a lot to do with our aging population and shifting demographics?
Bradley Schurman: It’s the only thing.
Casey Weade: It’s not just COVID.
Bradley Schurman: It’s the only thing. And what I stress to people enough is that this doesn’t go away for at least 25 years. It takes on average now about 25 years to build a fully functioning human being. So, even if tomorrow, our demographic realities change, and all of a sudden, American women start having 2.3 to 2.5 to 3 babies per household, then we have this boom of children again, it’s going to take 25 years before they become adults and actually start working. So, whether you like to think about things long-term or not, I’m here to tell you today, this is our reality for the next 25 years.
And as boomers, which are now the second largest generation, start leaving the workforce, which they will eventually do over the course of the next 25 years. My parents are 72. I don’t expect them to be working when they’re 90. We’re going to see this tighten even harder on us. So, the reality is here to stay, it’s already here. Now, of course, you’re going to hear people say, well, can’t we just open up the doors to immigration? Well, sure. But look where that’s gotten us so far in terms of national discourse.
Well, can’t we just outsource some of the work overseas? Sure. But there are quite a few countries that are also contracting in their population as well. What about machines? Aha. There you have an answer. There’s actually where there is some answer to helping us through this workforce crisis, and we’ll be using machines more to enhance the work that we do for longer periods of time. But that means that individuals have to stay up on their tech knowledge at a greater degree, too.
So, all of these different moving parts can kind of make your head go scrambled eggs. But if you’re paying attention to it, it is abundantly clear that this is here. It’s not going away any time soon. So, if you want to be a winner in this era, you have to adapt to new strategies, both as individuals and organizations.
Casey Weade: You talk about all these different demographics – Gen-Xers, Gen Z. You’ve got the middle-plus age wave. You have boomers. What’s the super age exactly? Can you be a super ager? Is that a demographic as you see it or is...
Bradley Schurman: The super agers and the middle class really line up. They’re a unique group of individuals that I think on paper really look and feel like the middle age group of folks, but they are, in fact, older. They have higher levels of cognition, higher levels of physical and mental well-being. They’re typically engaged in work for longer periods of time.
Again, my parents, both 72 years old, both by definition, to me, at least super-agers. They’re both still engaged in work and they’re not doing it because they need to work. They’re doing it because they want to work. They get great value from going to the office each day. These folks also are really smart about preparing for the future, they’re future-focused. So, they’re doing things like modifying their homes to meet the realities that might come since most of us will experience some form of acquired disability over the course of our lifetime.
But there are also these other parts to them that we might not see on the surface. They’re highly social. They’re active in their communities. They’ve got a large and deep bench of friends, friends that are, in many cases, intergenerational, I mean, all ages. They might be pet owners too, all these different things that keep people healthy and active for longer periods of time. And of course, they’re financially secure so that gives them a lot of license to do these things and, of course, live longer than many of us.
Casey Weade: One of the things I was most excited about in having you on has to do with the market directly because this is a conversation I’ve been having for the last 15 years with families over presentations and speaking events. So, I was having a conversation around looking at the stock market and how demographics drive the market. They drive our economy, and yet, we don’t really hear our demographics as being a key part of what is actually driving stock market growth or driving economic growth, for that matter.
And we’ll go back and look at the 80s and 90s, where we had the introduction of 401(k)’s in the late 70s. And then by the early 80s, the majority of businesses had established a 401(k). The majority of Fortune 500 companies, I think it’s around 80% of Fortune 500 companies had a defined contribution plan by the 80s. And now, you’ve got individuals that are taking money directly out of their paycheck and injecting it straight into the stock market.
Couple that with now, I have access to the internet where I can do my own trading at will. And now, we have a shift in that. We have all those individuals, largest generation in history, that were shoving those dollars into the market and driving it up higher to now withdrawing those dollars from the market, and an argument can be made in both ways. They say, well, they’re going to be taking it out of the market, but they’re going to be putting it right back in as they spend it. I’m curious to see how you view demographics and taking those dollars out. Is this going to have a negative impact on the market? Because some might argue, it’s going to have a positive impact on the market.
Bradley Schurman: It depends on what kind of market we’re looking at. If you’re looking at stock market...
Casey Weade: I think, that’s it, right? It becomes much more segment.
Bradley Schurman: Yeah, it’s really, it’s so nuanced against this is what we were saying at the beginning of this year. I’m a radical centrist. Like, it requires some nuance to the conversation that goes past the extreme of will the market crash if boomers pull out all their money? Well, no, they won’t. The market won’t crash, but there will be some adjustments.
I think the bigger question that I’m grappling with right now is, are higher interest rates here to stay? The prevailing wisdom is that because of aging populations, because of higher what we call a dependency ratio, where there are fewer people working to those numbered in retirement, it’s an imbalance that will have to keep interest rates low in order to keep the economy humming along. I don’t necessarily share that view. I actually think interest rates might be ticking up for the foreseeable future, and that will put additional pressure on the stock market.
The free money days will largely evaporate, but it’ll bring greater balance, I think, back into certainly the retirement savings industry and how we think about retirement more broadly because a performing portfolio can actually be diverse again. It can’t just be a high growth really fixated on the stock market. You can think about other things like IRAs and CDs that have– CDs paid nothing anymore versus just pushing money into the marketplace, which is what a number of people did.
And that’s part of the reason why people are in such trouble right now, is that they saw a significant decrease in the value of their portfolios. And now, they’re forced either to stay or work off of less. That working off of less piece and this adjustment in stock market has also forced a surprising number of workers to just reassess retirement. Are they ready yet? Do they have to push off for another three, five, even ten years, depending how hard their hit was?
Now, personally, I’m on an auto adjust IRA that takes into account my longevity so that I don’t have to think so much about it, those big changes. Not everyone does those, they get into one lane and they say high growth, high growth, high growth. And that’s great. But your risk equation actually changes as you know, the closer you get to retirement. You don’t want to be necessarily earning as much. You want to make sure that nest egg that you’ve built is really, really safe.
Casey Weade: Yeah, well, we often compare, look at Nikkei or the Japanese economy and say, well, this has already happened once. Look at Japan. Are we going to be facing the same future as Japan, or compare and contrast what’s happened in Japan to what’s happening here in the US and what can we glean from it? What can we learn from it? And how do we end up avoiding some of the negative impacts of those demographics that Japan experienced? And maybe there’s another country that you want to cite that you think’s even more relevant.
Bradley Schurman: It’s hard to compare and contrast Japan because they’re so wildly different, but let’s go with the comparisons first. Japan is a very old nation. In fact, Japan is so old now that deaths outpace births and they have been outpacing births for just over a decade now. So, last year, Japan lost a population roughly the size of Las Vegas or Vermont, 644,000 people just left the Japanese economy. And that’s largely due to aging society and the fact that they don’t have immigration.
The United States is different in that regard. We do have immigration. So, even though three-quarters of US counties and a half of US states have a scenario where deaths outpace births, our positive immigration tends to make up for that. So, the United States will continue to grow, albeit at a very slow pace, at least until the middle century, at least around the 20 or 30 years out.
So, comparing the two is difficult. A country that might be more in line with where we might be going is a country like Germany. Very, very large economy. United Kingdom is another very large economy. Similar age profiles, similar immigration patterns, also taking on reconsidering the working life of their populations. Germany has done it both through public and private sector measures, the UK as well, encouraging people to stay longer in work because it is good for the overall economy and it is good for individual pocketbooks.
What’s interesting that is happening in Japan now is that they’re starting to challenge the definition of old. So, here, we have a general acceptance of old being 65. I don’t buy into that, but many people do because that’s what the government tells us, that’s your “pensionable age,” that’s when you get Medicare. So, at that point, you become old.
In fact, even our measures of the labor market, we say 16 to 64, 65 plus is outside of a working age population. So, what Japan is doing is weird, kind of revolutionary, definitely unique, is they’ve just said, well, 65 isn’t old anymore, 75 is. Snap. Is that going to change things? Well, if you visit Japan, what you’ll find are a number of different realities popping up. We’re starting to see them here, too. The first is that people are working longer. That’s first and foremost.
The second is, is that the areas that are hardest hit by this demographic change are rural counties, just like here in the United States. One of the bigger challenges that Japan is facing, at least in my opinion, I think certainly for family wealth, is that businesses that were family-owned are not transferring to the next generation because there isn’t necessarily someone there who wants to take it over. So, Japan’s losing a lot of its cottage industries that are actually being bought up to some degree by venture capital firms, but they’re losing some of their cottage industries because there are no children to take on the family farm, to take on the local distillery. And those things go away. That’s part of this period that we’re entering into. I hope it doesn’t...
Casey Weade: I’m glad you said that about changing the definition of what old is. And it doesn’t seem like you can just snap your fingers and go, oh, we’re old, an old is now 75. And it seems like that has to be done at a legal level, at a government level, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy as I see it. We go, well, a senior is 65 plus. If a senior is 65 plus, then a senior is 65 plus, right? Well, I’m now old, when I’m 65, I should retire. So, doesn’t that have to be done at a regulatory level where we say no, now the age for Medicare is now 70 or 75? Are those some of the shifts that you saw in Japan in order for them to truly change that definition? They couldn’t adjust, really.
Bradley Schurman: Like I said, I think it’s odd. I think what you see in Japan, like you see here, is that people are living longer and better lives than they have in previous generations. And this, of course, correlates largely to wealth and to race as well. Whiter populations tend to earn more than other populations. Asian populations tend to live longer than other populations, but indigenous black populations tend to live the shortest and earn the least. All of that, when taken together, signals that not everyone is following the same path into late life.
So, having just a single demarcation of 65 is really problematic because it doesn’t get into the nuance of what old age is. If you look at history and I know you love history, Casey, if you look at history, our definition of old really was when you lost the ability to do, when you lost the ability to contribute, when you could no longer work, when you became essentially the ward of your family. That’s what our definition historically of old was.
Obviously, there’s always been exceptions for people that were age-based. If you’re 65 years old, you might not have to go to church in the high holy days. So, you may not have to fast because that would seem to be detrimental to your health. But on the whole, you really became old when you lost your ability to contribute. And that’s where we’re inching back to ever so slowly. But yes, it takes a while to shift the attitudes of a population to say, people that are post-65 aren’t necessarily old anymore.
In fact, for businesses, there’s a big push right now to move into stage-based market segmentation. So, you really consider the whole of person. Age is a measure that exists within that, but you’re also taking a look at how many health detriments do they have. Are they able to take care of themselves? Are they able to live alone? Do they still have a job? Are they married? Do they have kids? How old are the kids? Do they have any dependents living in the home? All of these things, when you start pulling them together, give you a much more robust picture of what a person is versus are they 65? Because for every 65-year-old that you show me that’s in decline, I’ll show you another 10 that have run a marathon in the past year that are running circles around me physically in terms of physical health.
So, we really need to take a look at the individual through the lens of the individual and what makes them up in total versus this really blunt instrument of age-based segmentation. And assuming just because you’re 65 or 75 or 85 that you’re done. For some people, that’s just the beginning of a new life stage, a new segment of their future that they want to lean into.
Casey Weade: It’s like coming out of World War. We needed to create Social Security to get older individuals out of the workforce, the young individuals would have a job. Now, we have the inverse. Now, we have– well, we need to get rid of Social Security so that that big demographic will continue to stay in the workforce because we need the workers.
Bradley Schurman: Yeah. And I have to make just minor adjustments to that because that is the commonly held belief is that Social Security is trying to get older people out of work. It was really designed as a response to mass industrialization and the repetitiveness of work in the sense that the body, it was thought, would essentially break down. The family structure had also started to change during the Industrial Revolution, and it continued to change postwar. So, these finances were really intended, both the Social Security Act and, of course, Medicare and Medicaid, to ensure that these individuals wouldn’t live in poverty, wouldn’t live with need in later life.
But you bring up an interesting point about this because we’re already starting to see some shifts in the family structure, again, that are almost reverting to the historical norm. Since the 1970s, the number of intergenerational households has been on an upswing. Across this country, more people are living with mom and dad, with grandma and grandpa. That’s a norm again. And that’s being driven a large part by economics. The wage to increase in housing costs, it’s not even. So, wages have remained relatively flat with some growth over time, but the housing market has just gone through the roof. It’s very hard for people to afford to buy a home today.
In this country, the idea of a starter home in large swaths of the nation is essentially gone. We’ve created a really weird dynamic which is almost forcing people’s hands back in the other direction, especially when you overlay things like the cost of care and especially long-term care. It becomes for many families, a growing number of families, an economic decision, as much as a social one to keep mom and dad in the home with them because it’s affordable. You can share resources. There’s a greater social cohesion amongst the generations living at home. These families can be happier, but of course, there’s some commerce to this as well, too.
There’s a concern that women might see an erosion of their space in society that it really carved out over the past 100 years. The gender roles, that sexual identity might get suppressed to some degree. But on the whole, we can’t ignore the larger trend. People are moving home. They’re moving back into homes with their families. They’re moving back into neighborhoods with their families. Communities are starting to tighten up and get more of a shape to what they were pre-middle century than they were during the middle century.
Casey Weade: So, let me organize my thoughts a little here. What I hear you saying, I mean, from a high level, it sounds like, okay, we have this aging population. We’re entering the super age. What do we need to make it out? Well, we need to keep people in the workforce for a longer period of time. We need to keep people alive for a longer period of time and continue to make them contributing members of society. There are a lot of different ways we can do that.
But it sounds like one of the easiest ways to do that is to change this definition of old or change this definition of what the appropriate retirement age is. One of the things in your book that you pointed to was that you’re an avid believer in working as long as possible, and then a lack of purpose is one of the main drivers of suicide, especially for older men. So, that is detrimental to society, right? That is detrimental to our economy as those individuals start to pass away. So, how do we keep people in the workforce for a longer period of time?
It seems like there are important implications here for Social Security and Medicare. And I think we’re seeing this already with individual retirement accounts. I mean, we’re seeing this with IRAs where the required minimum distribution age is starting to get pushed out further and further, which I think is going to have an impact on keeping more people in the workforce. What kind of shift do you see happening from a definitive or a definition standpoint when it comes to things like Social Security and Medicare? Are there implications that you see happening around those two programs?
Bradley Schurman: Yeah, of course. I mean, one of the bigger concerns that you’ll hear from most advocates in the space, old age advocates, I should say, is that the body does start to go first within physical labor. So, if you are a laborer, if you’re building houses, paving roads, that’s hard work. And the body can only take that kind of hard work for such a period of time.
So, what you’re starting to see is a couple of different things here, private sector innovation and then public sector adjustments. The retirement age is ticking up every year in terms of pensionable age. In fact, it’s going up to 70. At some point, we’ll hit that marker. It probably should go up higher than that. But it also should be more responsive to not just an age-based segmentation because, again, that’s a very blunt instrument. It should move towards more of one that takes into account the whole person. Are you able to work? Are you physically able to do a job? And do you have a skill that’s necessary?
In the private sector, we’ve seen factories now adjust to take into account the whole life of an individual and the abilities of individuals over time. In places like Japan, in places like Germany, you’re starting to see it here as well, the use of exoskeletons at work, especially in work that requires a lot of repetitive motion, are being used and that will help stretch out the working lives of most people. I would love to just be able to click my heels and say, well, that’s no longer old, but that just doesn’t happen. That happens over people actually seeing individuals working longer, individuals engaging longer, individuals who may be later in life showing their value to the community.
And not like what happened in the mid-century where we really said, get out, it’s time to move on, get that retirement village in Florida, golf all day long. Those people were really excluded from society. Our future, at least the future that I see for the rest of my working years, is one that needs to be inclusive because when we bring inclusivity into the conversation, when we ensure that people of all ages and abilities can work within this space together, our businesses perform better, our society functions at a higher rate. There’s less of a concern that they’re being a drag because there are too many people out of work and not spending. All of these things help us transition, but they happen over time and they happen in very small and very deliberate ways, both by the public sector, but also the private sector and individual citizens.
Casey Weade: And so, you see this happening at the ground level, at the corporate level, at the individual level where I think there are so many individuals that meet with that will say, well, I’ll just wait until I turn 62, I get Social Security, then I’ll retire. I’ll just wait till 65 because then I’ll get on Medicare and then I can retire. Do you see that changing? I mean, it sounds like a simple fix. It’s not a simple fix to make changes to Social Security or Medicare. However, I can see that coming, pushing the Social Security eligibility age up to 65, pushing the Medicare eligibility age up to 70. Do you see that being a possibility? You’re living in D.C., so you live and breathe the reality of this.
Bradley Schurman: So, there are a couple of realities that are happening that people may not be fully aware of yet. The first is that the eligibility age is nudging upwards. That was done a while ago. that’s something that’s on a predestined path.
Casey Weade: The full retirement age is increasing, but eligibility is staying the same.
Bradley Schurman: What people don’t realize is just how poorly that is messaged to people about how much they lose out.
Casey Weade: It drives me, and they’ll say, well, I’m waiting on my– I’m going to take Social Security by full retirement age, but that doesn’t mean anything.
Bradley Schurman: It means nothing. And nobody understands the value of just putting in an extra four to five years, what they really do for your portfolio at the end of the day, in terms of your Social Security earnings, but also, contributing to other parts of your retirement savings, what an outsized impact that can have. It boggles my mind that people can’t line up with that. To your other question, though, what can be done from a private sector point? Is that what you were asking?
Casey Weade: From a government level, do you see changes to Social Security and Medicare due to demographic shifts? And if so, to what extent?
Bradley Schurman: Yeah. So, there are other pressures that are coming pretty fast and hard. One is the solvency of both Medicare and Social Security. And the solvency of those programs really comes into question starting around 2030, where those programs won’t have enough money allotted to them in order to pay out full benefits, in order to maintain people’s general health and welfare.
Casey Weade: And this is all demographically driven.
Bradley Schurman: It’s all demographically driven. We have too many people. I’m sorry, I know this sounds rough, too many people who are in retirement and too few people in work right now. There is incredible imbalance. And you have to think of it this way. So, think of our world in the 1960s, looking like a giant pyramid. Large numbers of young people at the bottom, very few older people at the top. A lot of younger people paying for a smaller number of older people to live. That’s gone. Our pyramid has kind of squared off on either side now, so we have unevenness in the distribution. We’re all still paying roughly the same we did as in terms of a percent, but we’re paying for more people now. It makes it harder for us to deliver on these programs. So, your options are extend working lives or the programs, lower their benefits.
Casey Weade: Or increased taxes.
Bradley Schurman: Or increased taxes, which is not something that people are really comfortable doing. And also, those taxes only apply to the working-age population. People are actually engaged in work. Yeah, you get tax and Social Security, but people who are really engaged and work are the ones they’re paying those, so then you’re actually asking for a smaller number of people year on year to pay a higher share of the burden of keeping a retirement system in place that is really outdated at this point. It’s math.
So, in Japan, this is how dramatic it is that they have the pyramid essentially inverted in Japan, where they have so few young people taking care of a very large older population. So, those pressures when they come on– so Social Security is not going away, but when it loses its solvency, that means that benefits will start to decrease. So, it might not magically disappear in 10 or 15 years, but those checks might start getting smaller, and that’s going to push more people to get back into work.
There are some people that are much deeper into policy than I am that have suggested that, well, the government will just keep printing more money. I just don’t see that being a reality. I think what we’re really lurching towards if it doesn’t fix itself automatically is a revision of the social contract. In fact, my friend Michael Clinton, who is the author of Roar, another author you may be interested in interviewing for your show, Michael Clinton talks about the new longevity deal quite often now.
And as the country embraces the fact that we are living longer, the fact that we’re living healthier, the fact that there are fewer children born every year, that we’re entering a new economic and demographic reality. And if we don’t make these adjustments, if we don’t tack our sales, we’ll all suffer at the end of the day. But the question then remains, are we willing to have short-term sacrifice for long-term goals? Or are we willing just to put our heads in the sand and say, well, might figure itself out? It might not.
I think that all the populations, in particular, those that are retired, have a lot of interest in legacy, in maintaining their legacy. And I can imagine that legacy of seeing these big programs halter, or your children or grandchildren not being able to buy a home or paying so much tax to date, they’re essentially impoverished, really is something that excites many people at the...
Casey Weade: You say the fact that we’re living longer. And so, what are your thoughts? So, the CDC published this past August that for the second year in a row, two years in a row now, life expectancy has actually dropped in the US, this time frame from age 77 to 76.1 years, that’s the lowest level we’ve seen since 1996. And sure, maybe there’s some correlation with COVID, but does that go to show in some ways that maybe longevity isn’t guaranteed? I mean, how do you reconcile what’s happened over the last couple of years?
Bradley Schurman: I think longevity is not guaranteed. Longevity is not guaranteed, longevity is not guaranteed. Longevity is fully malleable. For most of human history, average lifespan was 35. It was only in the past 100 years that we’ve really democratized lifespan and people are able to live on average to be 70, 77, which I think is where we sit currently. We have had a two-year adjustment downward during COVID. It was because of COVID.
But there are other things that we need to tackle too, in order to keep pushing that lifespan higher and higher. For example, the opioid epidemic, which I know hit the Midwest particularly hard, that pulled down lifespan as well. These diseases of despair, which are driven in part by a lack of purpose – suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, those all pull back our longevity, too.
But when I say we’re living consistently longer, these are long-term trends now. So, even though there are these occasional blips on the radar, long term, our art is very positive. And we know that if we take a look at our cousins across the Atlantic in Europe, they are pushing up their average longevity year after year.
Also, if we take a look at the United States not as a full country, but as segments of a country, and we look at specific areas, we see some areas where life expectancy is pushing well into the 90s now. What are the parts of the country where life expectancy is as low as 56? So, how do you want to look at it? I think, on the whole, there is some room for adjustment. I think locally, certainly, in some states and some counties and in some regions, there’s a bigger challenge to take off, especially in areas with a high concentration of native or indigenous populations that tend to have the shortest life expectancies in this country, areas with concentrations of black people that have lower life expectancies on average, but those are places that we can fix.
We also have a whole new science of longevity that’s really emerging now by investors, driven by really some incredible minds at some of our biggest universities that suggest that there’s no real upper limit to our longevity. Of course, there are things that we have to take into account. How well we’re socialized? What’s our diet look like? Are we exercising? Are we secure financially? Do we have access to care?
But there’s also some thinking that there could be some therapeutics that could extend the lifespan significantly. Up until this point, the oldest lived person on official record was in France. She was 122 years old. The current longest live person on the planet is 119 years old. She also lives in France. The woman who’s currently the longest live person is still actively working at 119. She’s a nun.
So, you can’t tell me that there isn’t some secret sauce in there about purpose, about connection, about community that we aren’t fully expressing. In fact, Dan Buettner, a number of years ago wrote a book called The Blue Zones, where he examined some of the longest-lived populations on Earth. There are five of them worldwide. And these five areas have really high concentrations of centenarians, people who live past 100.
And what Dan found across them is that they were highly connected to faith, highly connected to community. They were social. They worked, they worked, they worked. They were physically active, not necessarily getting on the treadmill every day, but they were walking throughout their communities. They were eating local, very little to no processed foods, whatsoever.
Now, they were also mostly agrarian communities, which is kind of interesting because we have all this access to health and tech, these communities that were outperforming our highly industrialized, highly evolved societies. So, what can we do here? Well, I think you take elements of both and start lining them up while you can because if we have stronger communities, we perform better. If we have greater relationships at work, greater relationships with family and friends, we perform better.
There’s less likelihood of loneliness and isolation, which are big drivers for sickness and death, these diseases of despair, as I mentioned. Good community can also be a good cure, although not a perfect cure for postponing the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia. There’s just something about that stimuli that we haven’t fully expressed. But these men that are in science, women that are in science of longevity, they think there’s no upper limit. They think we could essentially live forever.
Casey Weade: Yeah. When I look at those, and I’m a big fan, I’ve followed Dan Sullivan and Peter Diamandis and the work that Tony Robbins is doing. And yeah, that’s all great. You’re going to live to 156, 175, but you’re also centimillionaires. These guys have hundreds of millions of dollars. They have the ability to pay for these things. I think it’s a long time before that science, that medical technology gets down to the average American.
Bradley Schurman: 100%. But the democratization of longevity can happen quite quickly if we allow it to. My grandfather was born in the coalfields of Western Pennsylvania, and when he was born, on average, he had a 50% chance of making it to adulthood. But he was so poor, his chance of making it to adulthood is probably closer to 25% or 30%.
Through some twist of fate, through the adjustment of public policy, rather than entering the mines at six, as he would have 10 years prior, he entered the mines at 14. So, those eight years of just staying out of that hard labor gave him that license to get a little bit closer to adulthood. Once he got to adulthood, he had a greater likelihood of making it into retirement. Once he got into retirement, he had a greater chance of making it into old age.
What people often fail to realize is that every year you’re on this planet, you get an extra longevity bonus as a result. So, when I was born, I think my life expectancy was about 73 at birth. I’m 45 if anyone cares. Today, my life expectancy is closer to 80. So, every year we live, we get a bonus.
Casey Weade: Sure.
Bradley Schurman: And that makes it really hard to plan. So, you have to work off some averages and assumptions if you really want to put together a retirement package that works for you. But also, if you’re living longer, you want to focus on things like compressing your morbidity. You want to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
So, thinking about, today, I’m thinking, okay, I’m 45. We’re going to make it to 80. There are things that I can do to improve that. I can change some of my healthy behaviors, my diet, and I can exercise more, but I’ve got to keep up my relationships. My relationships are really my secret sauce at the end of the day. When I do that, I also have to think about, again, it’s like all these different moving levers that we have to consider and it can kind of make our tiny little brains explode.
But these levers have to be pulled. And I have to think about what my working life looks like because if I’m not perfectly saved for retirement, I’m going to have to work longer. So, I have to have the skills to get back into the workplace if I leave it.
Casey Weade: It seems like the biggest lever here is to follow the blue zone methodology and find a community that we can live in, where we can have a multi-generational community that allows us to be out in nature, that allows us to be integrated with other types of individuals. You mentioned before we got started just how much easier it is today to just stay around people that are of the same age, the same mindset, and that can be very damaging for longevity. So, I set this up because I really want to turn this over to a question that we had submitted.
So, we had a question from one of our Weekend Reading subscribers, and I think this will lead us to where you want to answer that question. She says, “My top-of-mind super-age desire is finding affordable, accessible housing in a walkable community out my front door and nature out my back door. As a runner, my immediate plan is to stay put for the first year of retirement so I can finally enjoy the benefits of big-city living while sorting out lower cost-of-living options. Do you foresee any changes along these lines soon enough for me to benefit? Are there such communities springing up anywhere? And how do I find them?” And that’s what I was curious of, someone that spent so much time in this area. Are you seeing these types of communities pop up? What if someone’s looking for a community like this? Where do they go?
Bradley Schurman: I think if you’re talking about community broadly, these types of communities actually already exist. If you’re looking for a 55-plus-type community or a 65-plus-type community, it’s a different question altogether. So, I want to make sure I answer both questions cohesively.
Casey Weade: That seems like the problem today, right? It’s easy to find a 65-plus community with everyone being the same. And I’ll just go down to Florida and there’s a whole massive community down there with its own zip code. How do we find one that is multi-generational in nature?
Bradley Schurman: I think most communities are moving back towards that and they’re moving back towards it at a relatively fast pace. I think whenever you’re considering where you’re moving, you want to take a look at a couple of different things. You want to take a look at livability scores. You want to take a look at walkability scores. These are things that you can usually find through a real estate agent.
Obviously, affordability, that’s not hard to find. AARP, my alma mater, has a really wonderful program that they do at the World Health Organization called Age-Friendly Communities. And those Age-Friendly Communities are communities across this nation of various sizes and shapes from the smallest county, one of the smaller counties, Macon-Bibb in Georgia, to one of the largest cities, New York City. They have really made a commitment to enhancing age diversity, making sure that people of all ages can live there, that I do work on thesis on age-friendly community work.
So, with that in mind, be on the lookout for those types of places, and then base it on your budget. I would take a look at, too, if you’re planning, whether you’re single or partnered or married and you have to consider the access to care, as well, at some point. Is there a hospital? Is there a good nursing home nearby, too? So, you can find these places. America is a big country, but you have to be looking through a couple of different lenses to really ensure that you’re getting what you want at the end of the day.
I can tell you right now where I live in Washington, my block is incredibly age diverse. My neighborhood is surprisingly age-diverse for D.C. being a very young city. I can’t say it’s met the affordability check though, one problem here. But there are communities certainly across the Midwest that are highly connected.
I was just in Cedar Rapids a month or so ago, amazed by the quality of life there, amazed by the quality of life, the affordability, the tightness of the community, the strength of the faith-based community as well. Amazing world-class healthcare. Really, all in one very tight-knit community of about 100,000 people.
Casey Weade: Well, thanks for that. Some great resources there. We’ll be sure to throw those in the show notes. As we come to a close, I just have a couple of high-level questions for you and a little more on the philosophical side. First and foremost, if you’re to fast forward 10 years from now, and maybe it needs to be a little longer for you, but let’s say 10 years, you go forward a decade from now. Looking back, what would you hope to be seen as ridiculous of our current environment?
Bradley Schurman: Oh, yeah, I have to be careful on how I say that because not everyone loves this point of view. I think our idea of the nursing home and retirement communities will look just silly. It’s not that I don’t believe they have their place. They do. In fact, they’re an essential component to our long-term delivery of care.
But I think when we look back, we’ll look at the past 100 years in particular and say, why did we break up the family? Why do we do this? Why do we move to a nuclear family in the 20th century? Why did we insist that grandma and grandpa go into a 55-plus community or a retirement community or even a nursing home? Why did we do that? I think those are one of the things we’re going to look back and say, that’s just strange.
I also think we’re going to get to a point, I think it’s definitely going to be in 10 years to get to your question when we’re going to say, why did we put all these people out to pasture? Why do we not keep these folks engaged in the workforce for longer periods of time? I think it’s going to be a real kind of conundrum, we’re going to look back and say, why do we do that? It doesn’t make any sense.
It really never even made sense when we did it. It’s just it was good cover for getting expensive people out of the world. When I entered the workforce, actually, some high school at the time, but in the 1990s, labor force participation rate for older workers was at 14%. It’s already up to 22%. It gets back to 1950s levels where it was near 50%. I think that’ll be realistic in the next 15, 20 years.
Casey Weade: Yeah, it’s a whole lot of wisdom dropping down on the youth.
Bradley Schurman: Yeah, don’t forget, you’re going to have your first millennials. First millennials are already in their 40s now. They’re not kids anymore.
Casey Weade: Yeah.
Bradley Schurman: In 25 years, the first ones will be entering retirement. So, come on, this is a lot of change happening very quickly.
Casey Weade: I was listening to Podcast of the Day, and the host said, well, their audience, they’re all millennials. And millennials are, they’re just broke millennials, they don’t have any money. Millennials are not teenagers anymore.
Bradley Schurman: Also, people missed this with millennials all the time, millennials and late Gen Z’s are all going to be recipients of the largest wealth transfer in the history of the world, which has really started. We’re talking like $68 trillion worth of assets are moving between the older generations of boomers and late Gen X and early millennials. That is insane. That is going to create more millionaires. That single action over the next 10 or 15 years or so is going to create more millionaires in this country has ever seen before.
So, I talk in the book very clearly about this. It’s not just about old people. Obviously. I think there’s incredible value in older populations, I think, that we have misread the opportunity that exists there, we’ve done a lot of mistakes in the 20th century that we can rectify now. But the single biggest thing is demographics are changing us faster than anything else is. And when you align them with economics and changes in social behaviors, wow, this is just a really disruptive period. So, if it feels disruptive to you, if you feel like the change is happening too fast, you’re not alone. It is a bumpy ride right now and it will be for at least the next two decades.
Casey Weade: Final question, what does retire with purpose mean to you?
Bradley Schurman: I think retire with purpose means that you retire on your own volition, with your own design in mind. I think retiring on purpose means that you have the license to choose how you live your final act. That could include work, that could include staying engaged in the workplace. But it could also mean that you’ve taken the right steps to ensure that your home is ready for a long life, that the finances and that nest egg that you’ve built up are not only resistant to change but resilient to perhaps a changing life course, one that might be longer than you would have anticipated. Retiring on purpose really means that you have taken ownership to some degree of your own demographic destiny.
Casey Weade: That’s beautiful. Brad, I just want to say, as we wrap up here, I mean, this has just been an amazing conversation, but I love the way you’re approaching this topic. I’ve had so many of these conversations and I’ve seen so many individuals out there that are talking about this, but they’re talking about it from, you do it in such an engaging way. It’s such an exciting way to approach this topic. It’s not just, well, you need to work longer, retirement is dead. You’re really bringing some meat to the subject. And I love your mission, brother. Thank you so much for what you’re doing. And I look forward to seeing what you create in the world.
Bradley Schurman: Thanks, Casey. I really appreciate the time today.