Menopause, the Silver Economy and Workplace Opportunities

As we recognise World Menopause Day, take a moment to consider the economic power, diverse expertise and skills, and incredible societal contributions of the estimated 1.1 billion post-menopausal women worldwide by 2025—a population on-par with China or India, and dwarfing any other country. Indeed, if we want to fuel the vibrant $15 trillion silver economy, societies, governments, and employers must empower older women in the future of work, including solutions that fight stigma and increase workplace support related to menopause.

There is much to do, according to pioneering research by Bank of America, which finds that the workplace impacts of menopause are widespread, costly, and inequitable. In their latest report, Break through the stigma: Menopause in the workplace – which follows Bank of America’s previous thought leadership on employer conversations like elder caregiving and Alzheimer’s disease – half of surveyed women said menopause has had a negative impact on their work life. One recent study pegged the cost at $1.8 billion in the U.S. alone, not to mention Europe, Japan, and other super-aged or fast-ageing societies of the OECD.

Yet many of these adverse impacts are avoidable – and can even be transformed into positive outcomes. There are proven benefits to support women at work during menopause, including access to menopause health professionals, coverage for hormone replacement therapy, and policies like time-off or flexible work. Most women who have access to and take advantage of these benefits say they have a positive effect, and, in fact, many employers say they already offer these benefits.

So, what’s the problem? According to Lorna Sabbia, Managing Director, Head of Retirement & Personal Wealth Solutions at Bank of America, stigma is to blame: “Approximately 1.3 million women in the U.S. will enter menopause each year and 20% of the workforce are in some phase of the menopause transition, yet the word ‘menopause’ is rarely uttered, and seldom heard, in workplaces across the country. Often felt to be ‘too personal’ or ‘taboo,’ employees and employers are simply not talking about it.”

Just consider that 76 per cent of HR benefit managers said they discuss menopause-related issues with employees – but only three per cent of employees agreed.

Clearly, employers, policymakers, communities, and society at large need to step up our response to not only develop better solutions, but also ensure women can easily discuss, find, and use those solutions. That will unlock wide-reaching benefits for stronger economies, better women’s health, including follow-on consequences such as osteoporosis and related fractures, and a more dynamic future of work.

First, as populations age, it’s increasingly imperative to help older workers (55+) stay healthy, active, and engaged for longer. Menopause-related benefits should be an important part of the response, alongside support for employee-caregivers (the majority of women), lifelong learning initiatives, and other programmes for the multi-generational workforce. This also fits with the U.N. Decade of Healthy Ageing and its pillars of age-friendly communities, campaigns against ageism, integrated care, and access to long-term care.

Second, greater employer and policy support around menopause are essential for women’s health overall. In the past, the discussion has centered on younger women, but it’s long past time to include the older women who make up an increasing – and increasingly vital – share of aging societies. This would bolster health equity, not just across gender but also across age.

Third, the link to bone health, osteoporosis, and fragility fractures is key and another important opportunity to mitigate soaring impacts and costs. By 2025, it’s estimated that around 13.5 million older people will suffer fragility fractures each year, at an annual cost of ~$400 billion. Yet a staggering 80 per cent are not diagnosed and treated with effective therapies, including to prevent the second fracture that is often especially devastating, life-threatening, and expensive.

Benefits for menopause should be seen as one part of a larger bone health response, reaching from early awareness through osteoporosis screening, diagnosis, and support for Fracture Liaison Services.  Japan has taken the lead here, when in April ’22 they reformed their access and reimbursement for Fracture Liaison Services to help address second fractures; leaders in Super-Ageing Japan know the linkages to healthier ageing, including bone health, economic growth and the silver economy.

Finally, robust employer support will empower and equip older women for the future of the workplace and the workforce. Even more than AI, hybrid work, or other buzzy topics, the future of work will be defined by our ability to adapt for a world, and a workforce, with more old than young. Leaders and experts on ageing recognise the importance of this topic, which the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA) will feature at our High-Level Forum on the Silver Economy this December.

Indeed, as the leading business voice on aging-related policy and strategy, GCOA is prioritising the decisive role of women in the global response to ageing. That’s why we plan to plan to launch a new platform, Women in the Silver Economy (WISE) Council, dedicated to collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and solutions. We know that advances here – including for menopause – will amplify across more innovative companies, more dynamic workforces, and more prosperous and age-friendly communities.

Source: OECD Forum

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