Tuesday, April 1, 2014

To Live Longer We Have to Change Outdated Ideas of What It Means to Grow Old (Op-Ed)

aging, life expectancy 

Despite being called a “grand challenge” alongside climate change and terrorism, the fact of an ageing society isn’t new; it has been proceeding quietly across all developed countries for 174 years: data on female life expectancies starting in 1840 reveal an average increase of two months every ten years.

The linear trajectory of this increase is remarkable and shows no sign of reaching a plateau. This century, the fastest growing section of the population is the very old; there are 10m Britons alive today who can expect to live to at least 100. 
The familiar response to such information is negative: ageing is a problem. This is certainly the dominant media narrative, with common references to the “costs” and “burdens” of ageing. Of course this narrative discounts the economic, social and cultural contributions made by older people, for example in families as grandparents and in local communities. It also ignores the very high levels of solidarity between generations when it frequently suggests that the baby boomers are stealing resources from younger generations.

As I argued in a recent British Academy debate, social science research demonstrates that this dominant narrative is out of date. There is a widely observed “structured lag” of around 20 years between demographic change and policy and institutional responses. This means that our ideas about ageing are stuck in the past. For example, the quiet longevity revolution is underpinned by improved health, although this isn’t always consistent. So, for many people in terms of physical capacity, 70 is the new 50.

Incomes in old age have risen and poverty has been reduced (although still far from being eradicated). There is a new trend away from early exit from employment towards extended working lives; more than 1m people are working beyond their pension age. There has been a major cultural shift too, in literature, art and some fashion directed towards later life. And the anti-ageing industry is worth billions of pounds.

For the rest of the story: http://www.livescience.com/44478-to-live-longer-we-have-to-change-outdated-ideas-of-what-it-means-to-grow-old.html

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