Shock of Gray - a new book by Ted C. Fishman about the increasing age of modern populations - looks interesting. Here's an interview with Fishman.
What do we mean when we use the word "old"?
That depends on who we are and the age we are. When I spoke to people late in their career, they were talking about people who were retired as old. Then the early retirees would talk about the less-active retirees as old. There's ageism at every age. And it works in reverse, too. I was at a senior center where they were telling me about a dance where the 70-year-olds were dancing and a 90-year-old was on the balcony looking down. The senior center director said, "Why don't you go join in." And he goes, "Oh, those aren't my people."
As baby boomers start to approach the age of 65 in large numbers, do you foresee a civil rights movement for older adults, given that generation's history of activism?
There might be a civil rights movement, but people won't recognize it as a civil rights movement. They'll see it as an economic turf war. When you get the resources of a society, you get the respect. You can see this in Europe right now, where the population is somewhat older than it is here. The debt crisis has really caused a huge and quick reckoning with the crisis in pension funding and hundreds of thousands of people are coming into the street. They made promises to themselves and now they find that they can't keep those promises. In some ways, they're battling their past selves.
But they feel like they are fighting a younger generation.
Yeah, I think that's right. But in the long run the battle will not be for who gets what share of the public financing. It will be a more traditional civil rights issue, which is: Evaluate me on my abilities and my skills, not on my weaknesses. The older population is a hugely diverse one. If the image of an older person is going to be exclusively that of an enabled, sharp, cognitively with-it, older person who can work into their 70s and 80s, then we're ignoring a huge part of the population that will need our help.