I attended my first Age Boom Academy for journalists in 2008 and have returned several times since. This year was particularly rewarding, because now I’m able to put the speeches in context and because I’m honing in on a specific question: why are Americans, individually and collectively, so deaf to all but the negative messages about old age? After all, no one wants to die young, and no one disputes that the elimination of premature death is a remarkable achievement.
Susan Jacoby writes cogently on all kinds of topics dear to my heart, including feminism, anti-intellectualism, and the separation of church and state. Her new book, Never Say Die, is a tirade against “The Myth and Marketing of The New Old Age.” I think she’s got a lot of stuff right, especially when it comes to the grim economic prospect of the baby boom - and the ethical and logistical challenges of caring for an aging population. I agree that the notion of the “wisdom of old age” is politically expedient claptrap. But I take issue with the book’s central premise that life after 80 holds little but horrors.
I encountered that chilling phrase, “age apartheid,” in a New York Times Magazine piece by Ted C. Fishman, whose book The Shock of Gray was published last month. He’s talking about China, whose older workers have been largely excluded from the economic boom. “No country sorts its population more ruthlessly by age,” writes Fishman.
The heart of the matter, concisely put by the ILC-USA’s Executive Director Everette Dennis in his opening remarks at this annual journalism seminar, is the “perception of aging as a social problem versus as a great human achievement.”
That’s how you spell “aging” in the UK, and that’s Guardian columnist Zoe Williams’s take on this week’s US Census Bureau report on the unprecedented aging of the world population. Calling out an alarmist press for presenting this demographic shift as either a crisis or a burden, she exposes the standard fallacies, pointing out that people will continue to work well past traditional retirement ages and be healthy enough to do so.
I’ve been working on the Introduction for the book proposal, and am delighted by the fact that a number of ideas fell nicely into place. One of them was the framing of three central paradoxes of aging well. The first I knew intuitively. The third one was a complete surprise when I encountered it through my reading; then (duh!) I realized that it mirrored my own experience. The second one I only figured out a few weeks ago, while trying to synthesize research findings.
Current research into the relation between work and longevity describes an intricate web. “A constellation of work-related factors — whether you're employed, how secure you are in your job, how much you enjoy your work — may influence both your day-to-day health and how long you live,” writes Katherine Hobson in Newsday.