“A friend knows an actress whose alarm code—2828—reminds her of the age she must never surpass. (The repetition adds a touch of hysteria, which I like.),“ writes Carina Chocano in an essay in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine. It’s a sharp reminder of how early ageism kicks in for women, especially in LA, where Chocano lives.
My colleague at the Council on Contemporary Families, Virginia Rutter, is a sociologist and columnist for Girl w/ Pen, a wonderful site that "publicly and passionately dispels modern myths concerning gender, encouraging other feminist scholars, writers, and thinkers to do the same." This morning she posted her sharp interview with me.
Imagine a bunch of 35 year olds and a bunch of 85 year olds. Which is happier? The 35-year-olds, right? That’s what each group answers. But ask each to assess its own well-being and the older people come out ahead. This fact surprises (even me! even though I’ve written about it a lot!) because we’re so deeply conditioned to envision life after youth as decline. Yet it turns out that “Although as people move towards old age they lose things they treasure—vitality, mental sharpness and looks—they also gain what people spend their lives pursuing: happiness.”
It’s always good to encounter work that pushes back against the prevailing “it’s-all-downhill-from-here” narrative, and Wendy Lustbader’s Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older does just that.
In the pile of mail awaiting my return was the Fall Fashion issue of New York magazine, with a chic young woman on its cover. Yawn. “When it came time to cast the cover, we decided . . . to embrace a more expansive view of beauty,” writes Amy Larocca. “We came up with four cover subjects: an 81-year-old woman; a 19-year-old man who can pass quite convincingly as a woman; a mother and daughter . . ; and an old-fashioned yet newfangled muse.” Turned out that my copy just happened to sport the muse, and I stopped yawning.
The latest census data is out, and regional papers are picking up on it. In Baltimore County, the 85+ population is growing fast: up 40% between 2000 and 2007, and up 16.5% in the city itself. They’re paving the way for boomers (ages 55 to 64), whose numbers in the area rose by a third over the same period, July 2000 to July 2007. Among the old old, demographers credit overall longevity and better health care.
Is work what we do when we’d rather be doing something else? Is it what we do to make money? Is it what we say we do when we need to define ourselves to friends, or fill out forms, or elude or elicit questions? Is work a job? An identity?