Two New York Times editorials this week have me gnashing my teeth. Columnist David Brooks thinks the best way to nurture investment would be to “take spending that currently goes to the affluent elderly and redirect it to the young and the struggling.” He cites policymaker Yuval Levin’s proposal to means-test Medicare proposal, which would reduce benefits to olders with higher lifetime earnings.
In an excoriating piece in Truthdig, columnist Chris Hedge labels Hurricane Sandy “the Katrina of the North.” He begins and ends with 76-year-old Avgi Tzenis, whose house in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, was wrecked when three feet of water and sewage swept through it five weeks ago. She was widowed last year after nursing her husband through years of dementia, and has no idea how she’s going to pay for repairs.
“Women: can’t live with ‘em, can’t kill ‘em.” Men too: “Can’t live with ‘em, can’t shoot ‘em.” Same goes for old people, as Susan Jacoby writes in her jeremiad about old age in America, Never Say Die: “If we are not going to kill Granny, we are going to have to support Granny.”
This weekend I presented my work for the first time, at the annual conference of the Council on Contemporary Families, a group of social scientists and practitioners whose work I greatly respect. The title of the talk was “The Value of Work in Late Life,” but I pulled a slight bait-and-switch, because it turns out that this project isn’t about work any more. It's about ageism, starting with our own internalized biases. Here’s the ten-minute talk I gave:
In his op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, David Brooks points out that conceiving of old people as detached, depressed, and ineducable is not just outdated but wrong. “The research paints a comforting picture,” he writes. Then the editorial runs into trouble, starting with its title, “The Geezers’ Crusade” — and not the geezer part.
When I first heard the term “longevity risk”, I figured it was medical: a hazard associated with some new fountain-of-youth drug or diet. Silly me! It used to refer to the risk borne by pension funds or life insurance companies that guaranteed lifetime benefits. Then employer pension plans migrated to more volatile 401(k) plans. Then the market crashed and 401(k)s turned into 201(k)s. “Longevity risk” is now the chilly term for the prospect that more and more Americans will outlive their retirement savings, spending their final years despairing and destitute.
Following up on an earlier post about the first-ever recorded drop in the lifespan of American women, I came across this piece by TechNewsWorld columnist Sonia Arrison. It’s hardly suprising that the biotech industry views this dismal demographic shift as just another market opportunity. But I was so horrified by the columnist’s position that I had to comment:
I’ve been chewing over lots of longevity-related statistics lately. Almost all chart seemingly inexorable progress: Americans have gained 30 additional years of life in the 20th century; 17% percent of that increase is above the age of 65; the old old (aged 85+) make up the fastest growing subset of that group.