Understanding and Serving People Over 60: Rethink Everything You Think You Know

Museums have potential to fulfill the needs of the fastest growing and most dynamic audience in the world.

Understanding and Serving People Over 60: Rethink Everything You Think You Know

The concept of longevity often cues images of gray haired seniors with walkers. However, people over the age of 60 are actually the fastest growing and most dynamic audience in the world. Not only does this group control the majority of disposable income, but its members actively seek social experiences and opportunities for lifelong learning. Museums, with their rich offerings and cultural depth, are ideally positioned to cater to those needs.

We recently spoke with Susan Golden, Stanford faculty member and author of Stage Not Age: How to Understand and Serve People Over 60. That conversation surfaced three ways museums can reshape their approach to engaging this audience to become even more vibrant hubs of purpose and community while also contributing to their revenue goals.

  1. Retire the word retire - The words we use matter. Common descriptors like “senior” or “elderly'' don't address the diversity of populations over 60. As Susan Golden said, “take out the stereotypical images of everybody being frail, elderly, and declining the minute you hit a certain age benchmark. Instead, [show] that they're entering a new period of vibrancy and they're going further and they have so much to contribute.” Susan suggests using terms like Distinguished, Renaissance, or Furtherhood, a phrase that she coined. “The idea is that we're going further and we're looking forward to doing something new and different. We also want to contribute our wisdom and our values to the next generation.”

  2. Connect with their Communities  -  Engaging directly with individuals can be challenging and expensive. Museums can overcome this obstacle by connecting with the communities in which older adults are already active participants. Partnerships with Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), virtual spaces, and lifelong learning programs at universities provide avenues to reach and engage with active adults across multiple stages. By tapping into these existing networks, museums can establish meaningful connections, share resources, and collaborate on programs that cater to their specific needs and interests.

  3. Invest in Intergenerational Experiences - “Most people don't want to live in an age segregated world.” Museums often think of intergenerational learning as defined by families. Susan sees intergenerational experiences as more expansive. They can be  shared by distinguished adults and their younger neighbors or friends. Imagine younger and older individuals serving as docents together, sharing their knowledge and perspectives. Or, museums could create intergenerational learning groups that regularly gather to attend programs or explore exhibitions.

Creating intergenerational opportunities within museums offers numerous benefits. First, it can be energizing. “If you're hanging out with somebody [who is] 20 and you're in your eighties, you don't feel 80, you feel 20.” These interactions create opportunities for shared, positive social experiences for adults seeking purpose and community. As Susan said, “if you can bring different generations together that will be the secret sauce to longevity going forward.”

Furthermore, intergenerational learning can be an antidote to social isolation. Families often live far away and as Susan noted, “it got harder during COVID. It got harder over these isolated times that are not just COVID related but because of differences in political viewpoints. We need commonalities. And coming to a museum is a commonality.”

By retiring age-specific language, connecting with existing communities, and fostering intergenerational experiences, museums can create more inclusive and enriching environments for all visitors. Embracing the principles of purpose and community, museums can become centers of lifelong learning and social engagement, enhancing the well-being and longevity of all who visit. With the help of innovative software solutions like Gather, museums can effectively cater to the evolving needs of this diverse audience, ensuring a vibrant and fulfilling experience for all.

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