Anthropologist & Design Researcher: The Societal Effect Of Aging In Japan And China
PSFK 2017 speaker and The Field Study Handbook author Jan Chipchase discusses how an aging society presents significant societal issues and opportunities for companies in China and Japan
This year, Studio D published Transformations, a report that explores the lifestyles and attitudes of those over 65 years old in Japan and China. It is based on extensive ethnographic research and spans gender, career types and a range of living arrangements.
For those of you that are tasked with designing products that include “the elderly” (a common societal definition is 65 years or older), and self-identify as “young” (technically, 64 years or younger) I’ve included some additional notes below.
The broad opportunities are as follows:
- Populations are shrinking i.e. Japan’s population will be reduced by 40 million people in the next 50 years. China’s population will be reduced by 400m people in the next 83 years.
- At the same time their population is getting older, as shown in the age trees below. The trees are becoming taller and top-heavy. Combined with the above, this presents significant pressures on working populations, health care systems, pensions and public infrastructure.
- We define four, cross-culturally applicable life stages: new responsibility, transformation, coping and death, each with distinct needs and opportunities. Yes, death and even the after-life are both opportunities for service design.
- Urbanisation continues even as populations shrink. Tokyo is slowly becoming denser, China is still urbanising at pace. There is a large segment of elderly who are reluctant “adopters” of urbanisation, to be closer to healthcare services and to join migrated siblings.
- There is a shift to smaller family units, smaller apartments, and alternative living arrangements — see chart below. As a side note, this will benefit the short stay housing business, because far more of the housing stock will be studio or 1 bedroom apartments that are easier to rent out than larger homes.
What does this mean if you’re looking to design services for the elderly?
- First understand your life stage, your motivations associated with that life stage, and how it impacts your assumptions and biases about “growing old”. A simple, reflective exercise is to consider how your motivations differed from five years ago.
- Most people associate with being younger than their chronological age. Products and services therefore must be positioned at the user’s perceived age while still addressing needs such as deteriorating motor skills and memory. Consumers may consider products that target their chronological age with as socially stigmatized.
- The main effects of the latter stages of aging (which these days can span 20 years) are deteriorating health, social isolation and an ever tightening geographic reach. I predict that the biggest potential beneficiaries of autonomous vehicles will be the elderly in the coping stage of life. (Young teens are also impacted, but haven’t yet lived through the same freedom of movement, so they approach the benefits of autonomous mobility as something to gain, not something to lose. Loss of freedom is harder to cope with.) Currently, growing old means ever decreasing circles of mobility, and increasing reliance on family and society, all of which present a considerable emotional and financial strain. This burden can be lifted through smartly thought out AV services that offer practical, affordable travel, without needing to rely on younger relatives.
- Most elderly people cite “being a burden on family and society” as a primary worry. We mapped this dependency over a lifetime, in the familial reciprocity diagram below. Note the two golden ages where both parent and child are relatively independent and interdependency is in harmony. We predict that a long digital shadow will surface many things that would otherwise be forgotten and will change the social dynamics of what is considered an acceptable level of dependency.
- People will always have family. But it is only their tribe (of seniors going through similar experiences) that truly understand what it means to be “old”. Grandchildren provide unjudgemental companionship for the elderly.
- Changes in employment and a longer lifespan mean that retirement (as your parents knew it) is moot. It’s time to recognise new working and retirement models.
As a foundational research piece the findings and perspectives from this project are being used to help our clients reframe the issues and opportunities from aging.
Jan Chipchase is the author of The Field Study Handbook and founder and CEO of Studio D Radiodurans , a research, design and innovation consultancy. He specializes in identifying nuanced patterns of human behavior. The insight he generates informs and inspires design, strategy, brand and public policy.