That’s a question that Dr. Laura Carstensen regularly fields after explaining why older people are happier than younger ones—the basis of the ubiquitous Happiness U-curve. As I admit in my talk, I didn’t really believe the curve existed until I understood why. Carstensen, a psychologist and the founder of the Stanford Longevity Center, explains it beautifully.
Questions I'm asking
As questions come up, here's where I write them down
Blacks at the back of the bus. Women in the kitchen. Gays in the closet. For most of American history, until movements came along that changed things, that was “just the way things are.”
That’s still the way it is when it comes to getting older in America.
Once I got past the title (“What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?”) and the creepy photographs of faux-old toddlers—the ageist equivalent of blackface? Or “grayface?” as my colleague Andrea Charise proposed?—I read this article in the New York Times magazine with great interest. And mixed feelings.
One of the nice “keep up the good work” responses to my mass email last week came from my friend Robin. Her note went on to say that, “Even my mom, who just died at 95, wasn't an ‘old lady.’ Up until the last few days she really fought like a tiger . . . until her body just gave out. She simply died of old age.” She had lived with debilitating arthritis that set in in her late 40s, and “found a lot of meaning knitting baby items endlessly for the City of Hope and other charities.” Female, in her ninth decade, yet not an old lady?
Disability rights activist Simi Linton’s memoir, My Body Politic, shook up my thinking on topics ranging from sex to suicide, and got me comparing ableism and ageism. We act as though old people aren't disabled and disabled people never grow old, despite the fact that one third of disabled Americans are sixty-five or older, and that the same medical advances that have swelled the number of people with disabilities are keeping more and more of the rest of us alive long enough to join their ranks.
In October 2010, demographer Philip Longman warned of a “’gray tsunami’ sweeping the planet." The phrase summons a frankly terrifying vision of a giant wave of old people looming on the horizon, poised to drain the public coffers, swamp the healthcare system, and suck the wealth of future generations out to sea. Journalists jumped on it, and “gray tsunami” has since become widely adopted shorthand for the socioeconomic threat posed by an aging population.
As the Affordable Care Act rolls out and some healthcare costs spike, conservatives have a scapegoat and an unrelenting message: old people are responsible for rising costs and will not pay their share. It’s an all-too-familiar alarmist forecast: a “gray tsunami” of greedy, needy olders will drain the public coffers and consign the next generations to indentured servitude.