This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Life in the Old-Old Lane

We spend a lot of time thinking about the economic consequences of an aging society, especially in terms of how such countries will pay for pensions and health care for an increasingly larger older population. Here the demographic focus is on low birth rates and whether immigration can or should be part of a solution. Recently, however, author Susan Jacoby took a more personal look at the reality of our living to increasingly older ages. What does it mean to be among those who are the aging population? Her 65th birthday produced reflections on what might lie ahead.
People my age and younger still pretend that old age will yield to what has long been our generational credo — that we can transform ourselves endlessly, even undo reality, if only we live right. “Age-defying” is a modifier that figures prominently in advertisements for everything from vitamins and beauty products to services for the most frail among the “old old,” as demographers classify those over 85. You haven’t experienced cognitive dissonance until you receive a brochure encouraging you to spend thousands of dollars a year for long-term care insurance as you prepare to “defy” old age. “Deny” is the word the hucksters of longevity should be using. Nearly half of the old old — the fastest-growing segment of the over-65 population — will spend some time in a nursing home before they die, as a result of mental or physical disability. 
Jacoby was struck, in particular, by the concept floating around out there that "90 is the new 50." Earlier this year she had talked about this with Robert Butler, the founding director of the National Institute on Aging.
“I’m a scientist,” he replied, “and a scientist always hopes for the big breakthrough. The trouble with expecting 90 to become the new 50 is it can stop rational discussion — on a societal as well as individual level — about how to make 90 a better 90. This fantasy is a lot like waiting for Prince Charming, in that it doesn’t distinguish between hope and reasonable expectation.” 

Perhaps most remarkably, Jacoby's conclusion from her musings was as follows: "My hope is that I will not live as long as my mother and grandmother." That's a sobering thought that we all should spend time contemplating.

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