an “entirely new developmental stage”

It wasn’t the well-worn topic of a recent New York Times lifestyle article  that struck me.  (White-collar baby boomers, dubbed the “Encore Generation” by Marc Freedman, are staking out do-gooder second careers.) It was the matter-of-fact way this trend was presented within a radically new demographic, biological, and cultural landscape.

Some quotes:

•    calling it “a demographic wrench thrown into the classic arc of the life course,” reporter Sarah Kershaw noted the 30-year increase in the American lifespan over the past century
•    “researchers are now exploring an entirely new developmental stage for people roughly between the ages of 55 and 75”
•    “[research shows] encouraging findings on the mental abilities of the aging”
•    all of this “challenges the notion that these years are marked by an inevitable mental and physical decline”

The big question is how and when society at large will internalize these changes and begin to exploit their potential. “The culture hasn’t had time to catch up,” observed Laura L. Carstensen, director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity. “All the added years of life have been put into leisure, and that’s crazy.” It’s not just about the possibility (or necessity) of working longer. Nor even just about revising the traditionally tripartite life cycle (school, work & kids, retirement). It’s time to pull our heads out of the sand, stop obsessing about Social Security shortfalls, and let the good news take its place alongside the really scary stuff. I’m hoping this project will be a catalyst.

Comments

I just spent the last six weeks participating in an art piece at the Guggenheim which involved having a conversation with visitors about serious stuff. i often began the discussion by describing my 89 and 87 year-old parents as "the energizer bunnies" — representative examples of an emergent "fourth generation." Following your model i refer to them as the old-old. I would go on to say that I don't know how our society is going to be able to expand culturally, psychically, materially to make room for this new cohort which is increasingly healthy active and has no intention of getting off the stage. My fear of course, is that in a society like ours which survives in part by getting people to fight each other (black vs. white, men vs. women etc.) rather than working together to solve problems, that we will soon see a mass media intent on encouraging the young to see the longevity of their parents and grandparents as a problem.  Consider the extensive play given to Martin Amis' pronouncement that there should be euthanasia booths on every corner.