from the world's big
Mother’s Day & Households of One: Older Women and a Global Trend Business & Government Can't Ignore
It’s Mother’s Day. Are you thinking about mom? No, not because it’s Mother’s Day, but because mom is a trendsetter a virtual thermometer of what’s hot and what’s not. I am not referring to today’s much-studied chief consumer officer of the home caught between kids, parents, partner, work and so much else. I am talking about today’s older mom who is over 60 years old, what she means to business and government, as well as what she may foreshadow for today’s middle-aged woman tomorrow.
Mom Goes Solo
For some, Mother’s Day conjures up images of flowers, cards, gifts and homes crowded with children and grandchildren. That may be the case – for a day. But, after the dinner is done and the family waves its last good-bye, mom is very likely to be a household-of-one. A combination of personal preferences, divorce, moving decisions of adult children, male mortality, and life events has contributed to the reality that many older women live alone.
Here are the numbers in the United States. According to the US Census Bureau 40% of women over 65 years old live alone compared to only 19% of their male counterparts. While Hispanic and Asian women over 65 are less likely to live alone there are still about 20% of them living independently. In sharp contrast, nearly 42% of non-Hispanic white women and 39% of African-American women lead solo lives after 65 years old.
I can hear mumbling from some of you…‘older people aging alone is an American thing’…. perhaps, but it must be a fast selling export as well. Living arrangements of older women are changing in Europe and Asia as well.
Households-of-One Go Global
According the United Nations, Europe and North America are about equal in their respective proportions of older women and men living alone. Approximately 26% of people 60 years old and older live alone in both Europe and North America.
But, there is a wide range within those averages. European Union 15 or EU15 data shows stark regional differences between northern and southern Europe. Sweden leads with nearly 53% of women over age 65 living alone. In contrast, Spain has only 25% of women 65+ living solo.
Traditional household structure in Asia is changing as well. United Nations data provides a few examples. In 1986, 77% of adults over age 60 in Thailand lived with family compared to 59% in 2007. Japan reports that 70% of adults over age 65 lived with family members in 1980 compared to only 43% in 2005. Earlier this year China’s government announced that it was considering making a law requiring adult children to visit elderly parents as a means to address a growing care gap.
South America and Africa still have most older adults living with family – only 11% and 8% of older adults living alone on those continents respectively. If living arrangements are a product of changing lifestyles driven by economic development over time will more African and South American older women find themselves living solo?
Insights & Innovations
What do older women in households-of-one mean for business and government innovation? Many are quick to jump to the loneliness factor. While older women may be living alone, this does not necessarily mean they are lonely. Generally women show remarkable resilience and capacity to remain connected and engaged after traditional working age compared to men. In other cases family may not be in the home, but nearby. ‘Householdsof-one’ do present many practical implications. Here are just a few:
Smaller Everything – smaller households change demand. The most obvious impact will be on big boxes (and many big box stores) that do not have a place in the lives of people who live in small households. A can or two of something is sufficient instead of a case that is both too heavy and too much to eat for one.
Finance & Insurance – Financial services firms, insurers and retirement advisers must respond to the new reality that many of their clients are today – and more tomorrow – will be women. Planning and products that engage both partners is key to address future needs as well as keeping a household (not an individual) as a client. Financial products that promise independence for the long-term will be critical.
Independent Living Services – Nothing motivates like guilt. Adult children living at a distance may drive growth in technology-enabled services that keep mom in touch or in easy reach of support. Adult children, even their employers, may find that direct purchase of services that monitor well-being, provide emergency services, food delivery, transportation, etc., will not only be good for mom but be key to reducing the risk of a catastrophic event and enabling a productive workforce that needs to care from a distance. As we look to the next generation of older women, they will have fewer children, be better educated and have larger incomes than older women today. They will individually demand, finance and assess quality services to ensure their personal well-being.
Home Maintenance & Modification –New businesses and public programs are likely to emerge to help older women clean and maintain the house, extend independence at home by modifying and remodeling the home to ensure usability and accessibility across the lifespan.
Trusted Providers – Selected companies with trusted brands, NGOs, and government agencies are likely to expand their services to people in their service area and become the distant caregivers ‘go to’ source for information, identifying, financing and monitoring the services they will need to care for mom or for older adults to care for themselves.
Social Services – Even for the toughest among us, living alone has its challenges. Social services and support to manage daily activities and ensure physical and emotional well-being will be needed by many. Particularly those who may not have access to the technology, services and social network that will enable others to thrive solo.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.
- The Indy Autonomous Challenge will task student teams with developing self-driving software for race cars.
- The competition requires cars to complete 20 laps within 25 minutes, meaning cars would need to average about 110 mph.
- The organizers say they hope to advance the field of driverless cars and "inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>Completing the race in 25 minutes means the cars will need to average about 110 miles per hour. So, while the race may end up being a bit slower than a typical Indy 500 competition, in which winners average speeds of over 160 mph, it's still set to be the fastest autonomous race featuring full-size cars.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is no human redundancy there," Matt Peak, managing director for Energy Systems Network, a nonprofit that develops technology for the automation and energy sectors, told the <a href="https://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2020/06/01/Indy-Autonomous-Challenge-Indy-500-Indianapolis-Motor-Speedway-Ansys-Aptiv-self-driving-cars/stories/202005280137" target="_blank">Pittsburgh Post-Gazette</a>. "Either your car makes this happen or smash into the wall you go."</p>
Illustration of the Indy Autonomous Challenge
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>The Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://www.indyautonomouschallenge.com/rules" target="_blank">describes</a> itself as a "past-the-post" competition, which "refers to a binary, objective, measurable performance rather than a subjective evaluation, judgement, or recognition."</p><p>This competition design was inspired by the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge, which tasked teams with developing driverless cars and sending them along a 150-mile route in Southern California for a chance to win $1 million. But that prize went unclaimed, because within a few hours after starting, all the vehicles had suffered some kind of critical failure.</p>
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>One factor that could prevent a similar outcome in the upcoming race is the ability to test-run cars on a virtual racetrack. The simulation software company Ansys Inc. has already developed a model of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on which teams will test their algorithms as part of a series of qualifying rounds.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We can create, with physics, multiple real-life scenarios that are reflective of the real world," Ansys President Ajei Gopal told <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/autonomous-vehicles-to-race-at-indianapolis-motor-speedway-11595237401?mod=e2tw" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a>. "We can use that to train the AI, so it starts to come up to speed."</p><p>Still, the race could reveal that self-driving cars aren't quite ready to race at speeds of over 110 mph. After all, regular self-driving cars already face enough logistical and technical roadblocks, including <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53349313#:~:text=Tesla%20will%20be%20able%20to,no%20driver%20input%2C%20he%20said." target="_blank">crumbling infrastructure, communication issues</a> and the <a href="https://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/would-you-ride-in-a-car-thats-programmed-to-kill-you" target="_self">fateful moral decisions driverless cars will have to make in split seconds</a>.</p>But the Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5da73021d0636f4ec706fa0a/t/5dc0680c41954d4ef41ec2b2/1572890638793/Indy+Autonomous+Challenge+Ruleset+-+v5NOV2019+%282%29.pdf" target="_blank">says</a> its main goal is to advance the industry, by challenging "students around the world to imagine, invent, and prove a new generation of automated vehicle (AV) software and inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.
- A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
- Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
- Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Challenging the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Disorders: Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="41699c8c2cb2aee9271a36646e0bee7d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-8BDC7i8Yyw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This is a far cry from Howard Rusk's 1947 NY Times editorial calling for mental healt</p><p>h disorders to be treated similarly to physical disease (such as diabetes and cancer). This mindset—not attributable to Rusk alone; he was merely relaying the psychiatric currency of the time—has dominated the field for decades: mental anguish is a genetic and/or chemical-deficiency disorder that must be treated pharmacologically.</p><p>Even as psychiatry untethered from DSM categories, the field still used chemistry to validate its existence. Psychotherapy, arguably the most efficient means for managing much of our anxiety and depression, is time- and labor-intensive. Counseling requires an empathetic and wizened ear to guide the patient to do the work. Ingesting a pill to do that work for you is more seductive, and easier. As Davis writes, even though the industry abandoned the DSM, it continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system." </p><p>That language has infiltrated public consciousness. The team at McLean surveyed 279 patients seeking acute treatment for depression. As they note, the causes of psychological distress have constantly shifted over the millennia: humoral imbalance in the ancient world; spiritual possession in medieval times; early childhood experiences around the time of Freud; maladaptive thought patterns dominant in the latter half of last century. While the team found that psychosocial explanations remain popular, biogenetic explanations (such as the chemical imbalance theory) are becoming more prominent. </p><p>Interestingly, the 80 people Davis interviewed for his book predominantly relied on biogenetic explanations. Instead of doctors diagnosing patients, as you might expect, they increasingly serve to confirm what patients come in suspecting. Patients arrive at medical offices confident in their self-diagnoses. They believe a pill is the best course of treatment, largely because they saw an advertisement or listened to a friend. Doctors too often oblige without further curiosity as to the reasons for their distress. </p>
Image: Illustration Forest / Shutterstock<p>While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient. The team at McLean writes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions."</p><p>Davis points out the language used by direct-to-consumer advertising prevalent in America. Doctors, media, and advertising agencies converge around common messages, such as everyday blues is a "real medical condition," everyone is susceptible to clinical depression, and drugs correct underlying somatic conditions that you never consciously control. He continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Your inner life and evaluative stance are of marginal, if any, relevance; counseling or psychotherapy aimed at self-insight would serve little purpose." </p><p>The McLean team discovered a similar phenomenon: patients expect little from psychotherapy and a lot from pills. When depression is treated as the result of an internal and immutable essence instead of environmental conditions, behavioral changes are not expected to make much difference. Chemistry rules the popular imagination.</p>