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Why older women will rule the world: The future is female, MIT expert says

As we live longer, women over 50 will have more power than ever before.
Image: Judi Dench attends a screening in London
MIT's Joseph F. Coughlin argues that as people get older, women are better prepared for life after middle age than their male peers.Tim P. Whitby / Getty Images for BFI

If you’re a woman with a bit of life experience, you already know you’re the boss.

You’re more likely to drive health care decisions in your family, control household spending, care for millennials and elders, start a business and initiate a divorce. You have the longevity advantage over men.

In other words, you rule.

But does the world know it? Older women can sometimes feel like they’re invisible to workplaces and businesses, but they're actually the trailblazers others should be watching, says Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the new book, “The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market.”

As people get older, the future is female, he argues, with women better prepared for life after middle age than their male peers.

“One of the greatest under-appreciated sources of innovation and new business may in fact be women over 50 with new ideas, lots of life ahead of them and with the verve to get it done,” Coughlin told TODAY.

He explained why older women will rule the world.

Why the future is female:

Coughlin: Women do more. They have more education than at any time in history. They’re likely to live longer.

A woman is the researcher of the house. Women are far more likely to go online not just to do research for themselves, but be the go-to researcher for millennials, who identify their middle-aged mothers as their best friend.

She is the caregiver-in-chief. Women are caring for more parents than they had ever planned — their parents as well as their in-laws. Getting to 100 is so common now that we see birthday cards in the drugstore for centenarians. There may be three or four generations under the care of one matriarch.

A woman is the chief consumer officer of the house. She’s the one who knows what groceries are bought, what bills are being paid, how that house actually works. The majority of car purchases are directly influenced or done by women. If they’re luxury cars, the numbers go up even more. Home improvement is directed by the woman. Probably most striking is that 80-90 cents on the dollar of every healthcare decision is made by a woman.

Because of all these factors, she is likely to be the person who is closest to understanding what the new jobs and the opportunities of living longer, better are going to be.

Older women are driving relationships:

Coughlin: The number one divorce rate in the country is among the 50-plus, mostly initiated by the woman.

When we talk to men about what they think retirement is going to be, it’s almost celebratory: If they’ve saved their money, they see it as a time to play golf, take that trip, buy that new car. And they often talk about spending time with their wives.

I can’t tell you how many women have told me, ‘I don’t know who this man is on my couch but I wish he would just go and get a job. I have routines, I have things to do and he’s always there and he’s always asking me what to do next.’

I think men, particularly those of us over 50, need to up our game. We really have to take a lesson from women that life is more than work; that we need to develop new interests and keep that romance going.

The relationship began decades earlier based upon what you brought to the table and what you created together. Suddenly in older age, men get so caught into a routine — partly because of our employment and lifestyle — that they forget that they need to continue to be exciting and delighting.

Older women are changing the workplace:

Coughlin: The new women’s movement is entrepreneurship.

When you’re young, you’re willing to join a large corporation and put up with the bureaucracy. You do not have the patience to put up with that later on. By the time you’re 40, 50 or 60, chances are you’ve raised a family, managed a home, you’ve got an education, and you have already done your corporate gig.

What we’re starting to see is that older women may be hitting a wall in many major corporations, and that is the corporations’ loss. They are becoming engines of innovation in their own right by starting consulting companies, new stores and online sites.

How women should prepare for living their best life after middle age:

Coughlin: Save money. Try to amass as many resources as possible.

Take a cue from your mother’s generation and recognize social connections are as important as your financial wellbeing. Maintain that network of support — not just of people who can do something for you, but something that gives you meaning to life and engagement over the long term.

Ask yourself: What are the little things that make you smile every day? Do you have access to them? Can you afford them? More importantly, can you identify them? Things that will give you quality of life over 100 years, not just the ability to live 100 years.

This article was originally published on TODAY Health & Wellness.

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