by Jeremy Sy and Simran Gill
The cartoon above resonates in Asia, because it’s uncomfortably close to how people in many societies here are expected to age, if not how they actually age. One stays young and vital – and gendered – for only as long as those characteristics are useful to the raising of children. Once the children are grown up, parents are expected to grow old – to retire, to give up their personal identities or passions, and to prepare for the inevitable decline into poor health and death.
Increasingly, older Asians are defying this stereotype of ageing, and forging new, more personally fulfilling paths through their 50s and beyond.
While early morning tai chi, yoga and qi gong have always enjoyed some popularity among older people in countries as diverse as China, Vietnam and the Philippines, the number of practitioners has been steadily increasing as more and more seniors seek out both the physical and social benefits of participating in these activities.
Beyond traditional activities, older Asians are also getting into other, more surprising activities to meet their need for both physical exercise and social stimulation. In Singapore, line dancing is gaining popularity among older people. The Country Line Dance Association of Singapore organized a 3-year long Dancing for Health project, to promote line dancing as a low impact activity for seniors who want to lead healthier lifestyles. Senior citizens can be found in various parts of the country, in funky country boots and hats, dancing to the tunes of Wagon Wheel Rock and Cowboy Waltz.
Apart from keeping themselves fit and active, senior citizens in the region are also satisfying their wanderlust. From retired couples wanting to spend time together in exotic locales, to groups of friends celebrating their newfound collective freedom from the responsibilities of child rearing, more and more older Asians are traveling the world. A few travel agencies even have tour groups especially organised for senior citizens. India’s Kesari Travel Group calls its speciality world tours for seniors ‘Second Innings Tour’ because they want their customers to experience their “bygone college days” once more.
Divorce rates are rising
And, perhaps more profoundly, more and more older Asians are re-engaging with matters of the heart.
Divorce rates are rising amongst the elderly in Asia. Older couples are getting divorced because they are realising that societal norms today are not holding them back from leaving relationships that have collapsed, or that were only held together by the need for a stable environment in which to raise children. In India, the growing independence of women, as well as changing attitudes in urban areas, have allowed more elderly women to end their unhappy marriages. In South Korea, 26% of divorces involve elderly couples. The divorce rate in Seoul among couples aged 50 or older overtook the rate among younger couples in 2010. Since then, the gap has only grown wider.
With more elderly people becoming single through divorce and widowhood, many are looking for love once more. Matchmaking agencies and online dating sites are increasing in popularity among older people in the region. When Jiayuan.com, China’s largest online dating site, polled 9,000 of its over-55 members, a third said they had successfully found love (again). In India, there has been a surge in the number of matrimonial sites catering to second marriages or remarriages, with an increasing number of elderly registered users. The demand for such services for the elderly is growing. A matchmaking event held in Shanghai in November 2013 attracted 8,000 more visitors after the age bar was raised from 35 to 60.
Not everyone looks for love in order to get married. Cohabitation without marriage amongst the elderly is on the rise. Shanghai Silver Hair Matchmaking Agency, one of the most popular agencies for the elderly, receives about 200 people seeking new relationships every week. Notably, in 2012, only 50% of the couples they introduced married – the rest chose to cohabitate. Cohabitation is thought to prevent ill feeling among the adult children of the new couples, while solving the problem of loneliness among single seniors.
All in all, older Asians seem to be entering a new golden age, full of new possibilities for happiness and fulfilment. Brands need to catch up. It’s time to set aside the old stereotype of the sedentary, lonely, silver-haired Asian, and to embrace a new breed of older consumers who are embracing all the opportunities life offers them.
The image is from the website Tastefully Offensive, and is used with thanks.