ageism trumps marketing: making gray the next green

The Sunday New York Times business section recently offered a Barbie-sized photograph, front and back, of a college student strapped into an age-simulation jumpsuit called AGNES – the Age Gain Now Empathy System.  (Is there a special hell for tortured acronyms?) AGNES is packed with motion-impairing straps and pads, but the article isn’t about empathy for the arthritic.  It’s about the hard sell that marketers face in selling stuff to the over-65 set, “an unfashionable demographic group that might doom their product with young and hip spenders.”

manifesto, tweaked

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:

From counter culture to elder culture

Thirty-five years ago, in his landmark portrait of the turbluent ‘60s, historian Theodore Roszak coined the term “counter culture.” Now he’s publishing a sequel of sorts, The Making of an Elder Culture, a look at the potential for the change-makers of yore to shape an elder-dominated society. How likely is it, he asks, that “a generation numbering millions — who were ready to doubt everything and try anything — will settle, in their later years, for their parents’ idea of retirement any more than they settled, in their youth, for their parents’ idea of success and happiness?”

“Sixty’s the new 60.”

Several people whose opinions I respect have mentioned Marc Freedman and his organization, Civic Ventures, so I found myself listening to an interview with Freedman on AARP’s Prime Time Radio. Talking about his new book (Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life), Freedman declares the nature of what it means to grow older in America to be “under radical revision. For a long time the dream in this country was liberation from labor. Now it’s becoming a dream around the freedom to work.” [emphasis his]

MSNBC says, “Forget bingo! 80 is the new 30!”

People who hear about this project say, “Great idea!” They also say, “Don’t you think you should include people under eighty?”

Nope. For one thing, people who work into their eighties aren’t unusual enough. Eyebrows don’t raise. Secondly, while seventy is within striking range for my indulged and potent generation, eighty still seems old — on the far side of the delusory divide between “us” vs. “them.”