By way of swag, everyone attending last week’s five-day Columbia Journalism School Age Boom Academy on “Covering the myths and realities of aging in America” received a canvas tote packed with print hand-outs. I was struck by a juxtaposition between two that I read the first night.
Two friends sent me links to a piece by James Ridgeway’s piece in the Guardian about the future of growing old in America.(Bottom line: not looking good. Better to be British, though not for long or by much.) What caught my eye wasn’t the greedy-geezer-rebutting statistics that millions of older Americans can expect to keep working or to be poor – or both. It was the first line: “In her remarkable book The Coming of Age, Simone de Beauvoir observed that fear of aging and death drives younger people to view their elders as a separate species, rather than as their own future selves.”
A friend pointed me towards this insightful article in the Economist about what I’ve been calling the “U-shaped happiness curve." (In Britspeak, that’s “U-bend.”) It attributes widespread corroboration to “a new branch of economics that seeks a more satisfactory measure than money of human well-being,” and observes that the U-bend shows up consistently and globally across 40 years’ worth of data, even when scientists control for cash, employment status and children.
A large Gallup poll of more than has found that “by almost any measure, people get happier as they get older.” The tone is skeptical: “[Getting old] sounds miserable, but apparently it is not.” The methodology is impeccable: researchers surveyed 340,000 Americans aged 18 to 85. The conclusion is clear: “good news for old people, and for those who are getting old.” In other words, for everyone.
My new year’s resolution is to start integrating more personal reflections into the blog. No better place to begin than a BBC News story that came my way last week about a link between youthful looks and longer lives. Studies show younger-looking twins in both Denmark and the UK outliving their siblings. As ever, it’s a dance between genetics and environment. Worn faces probably reflect harder lives, and those subjects also had shorter telomeres (pieces of DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes from deteriorating).
I’ve been steering clear of the Methuselah-minded crowd for whom the grail is the extension of the human lifespan. For one thing, the science is muddy. Secondly (and very scientifically), they give me the creeps. Thirdly, the more important question, it seems to me, is how to improve the quality of the additional 30 years of life that refrigeration and clean water have so recently delivered to us.
"There is no brick wall." So speaketh the noted demographer and biogerontologist Jay Olshansky, referring to the fact that humans have no “death genes”, nor “aging genes” that regulate the process of making you old. He was speaking at the 2009 Age Boom Academy at the International Longevity Center, tp which director Bob Butler was kind enough to welcome me back as an alumna. Some other compelling facts from Olshansky’s talk, which was titled “The Demographic Perspective on Longevity”: