The future of; 19; Old Age
From WMUR found in Washington D.C. the future of another in a series of discussions of alternative futures. Your moderator is Joe codes of the world future society. Mr. Coates. Good evening this is Joe codes for the world Futures Society presenting another in a series of discussions of alternative futures the subject for the savings discussion is the future of old age. We have all this Harold Shepherd member of the staff of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Washington D.C. Dr. Sheppard has been with the Upjohn institue since 1963 1959 he returned to his hometown Washington to be the staff director on the Senate's first Special Committee on Aging. His particular career interest is gerontology and the interrelationships with work and employment. Well Dr. Shepherd One of the problems that seems to be siege the early aging is the fear of unemployment at age 40
or 45. Could you tell us a little bit about that and how it comes about. Well whenever one of the main ways in which unemployment for older workers comes about is through a plant shutdown or a company moving or a company merging or the government decides to close down a defense operation and that begins to hit the people in their 40s is what really the problem of the aging is that the central issue. Well I would say work for the group 45 to say 65 we have to be arbitrary our age cut offs should be obviously at work is very critical. The debate really has to do with how critical is work when you start getting into your 60s and 70s and 80s and perhaps we can get into that later on during the evening. Please do. But first let's get some idea of who the aged are and how many there are. I have some figures here that suggest that back in 89 fifty two and a half percent of the
population was over age 65. Today something like 20 million people in the United States or 10 percent of the population is over 65. Are we at an old age explosion. I'd say we are in terms of numbers I don't want to argue about percentages because that's affected by you know how many young people there are making up the total base and that's going to be affected by birth rates in the future and the 20 million that we have today are a different type from the whatever two and a half percent was in 1850 in terms of whether or not they're working and where they work and where they live. And that makes a big difference and discussion about the future of old age. What what is the general powder. Is there one aside from the matter of the increased longevity of people will be interesting subplot or he's among the age. I think we're going to see a lot more sub categories of statuses of the aged and among the so-called aged.
There are categories of different ages and I think that's the other thing we have to keep in mind is to slide the primaries. But what does that mean. I think there must be some meaning there that I'm not getting. I think it makes a difference whether all the aged over 60 to 70 versus many of the aged in their 80s and some in their 60s. Let me try and put this across and any sort of ratio fashion in one thousand sixty For every 100 people 60 to 64 already retired or about to retire. There were 34 people in the very upper age groups of say 80 and over. We know without waiting for people to be born we know already that by the year 2000. That's only 30 years from now. The ratio will not be 100 to 34 but 100 to 67. In other words there's going to be a doubling of the ratio of the very old relative to the
new old and that's going to make some fantastic differences I think in terms of government policy in terms of family structure and what we ordinarily think of as family responsibilities. Could you be a little more specific. Well let's give an example. Let's take a guy who's 40 years old and today and he has a 60 year old. Let's take in a say 100 of them. He's going to they're going to have quite a few parents still alive in their 60s and a few are grandparents. But in the year 2000 that poor guy who's 40 years old if we continue with our current patterns is going to be expected to take care of his mother and father who are still alive in their 60s and. A grandfather or grandmother and maybe his wife's grandfather and grandmother and he's also supposed to be taking care of his kids
who under current patterns are going to be going to school until they're 25. He has we you know we're extending the age of adolescence under current patterns. And what I'm what I'm predicting and I hope I'm around the year 2000 to see who wins the bet. I hope you're the grandfather that all this is come about. I'm hoping that some some patterns have been changed that I don't have to worry about my 40 year old son taking care of me and and so on. I'm predicting that there's going to be a demand in a different way we distribute statuses in our lifetime including the work status. How do you mean. Well I don't I don't think we can continue forever extending let's say the period during which people learn before they enter the labor market. And at the same time reduce the age at which they leave the labor market. In other words early retirement because we are creating a greater burden First of all on the working population. And the way we finance things now let's say for old age through a
regressive Social Security tax. I think there's going to be a sort of limit to how far the working population will want that. And secondly. I don't believe that the young people of today will want to be treated when they become old the way they and others treat the aged of today. I just can't picture it they're going to be a different breed. They're not going to stay in Ford So they're not going to stand for it. I have a Gary attic revolution as I would call a geriatric revolution you know it it might be a gradual thing I know things could be overnight like so many revolutions are thought of. Well what are some of the things. Let's pause a moment and then on what are some of the ways in which the aged are treated today that is so to speak anti-social or objectionable. Well I think we as a psychologist in Washington named Robert Butler has made a statement several times and I think I think gradually I've come to agree with you.
He says that we don't live merely in a racist society we live in an age just society. In fact the more I think about it. I think that ageism as a as a term similar to racism is much more endemic in our culture than racism it's going to be more difficult to get rid of. I mean the notion that old is ugly or something only is ugly you don't even think about it. I can give a case study after case study to illustrate not necessarily to prove the the proposition that we don't give a second thought to discriminating against an older person but we do give a second thought to discriminating against a minority group person in our society. It's in our consciousness now that we might be subject to prejudice we might be a prejudiced type person. I don't think it's in our consciousness yet that we are put scrim unaided that we do discriminate against older people and older can begin at 45 or 50 certainly in the employ you see just outside the area of employment to when you say we prejudice were prejudiced
against the the age for you I was like yes well you know I would much my major interest so most of my examples are going to be there but you can take a look around and see the degree to which we reckoned with. The age factor let's say in offering courses let's say in the adult education field do we reach out. Do we advertise among the older groups. You can see examples of the way we design houses or buildings based on the assumption that the person is going to live in them or use them is at a 35 year old athlete and not a 70 year old person who might need a different type of architectural design. There are very few people who are consciously sensitive to that. You can I can cite cases in which a government agency will
simply say well without without even second thought that a program just will not be made available to people let's say over 65. And when you're you have to remind them of it I can give you examples I don't want to keep a lab rating of a project complaining that they can't find enough personnel to carry out a certain function let's say new careers in the whole anti-poverty fight and a consultant coming in saying well what about the older people. Well we didn't think of them and besides you everybody knows that the older person can't be taught you when you do force them to work. And statistics show that the average older person can't learn new tricks. And you would say all this is largely prejudicial as I say I totally prejudicial on the employment business. The figures that show that 40 percent of the only employed are over age 45 but only 10 percent of the federal programs her training and retraining are directed at those over 45.
Well there's certainly a disproportionate. Under representation of people 45 and over in the training programs relative to the proportion they make up in the in the unemployed category let's look at another facet of this work business the the timing of the work it seems that there's another fundamental problem. Another fundamental aspect of our society and a head on collision with this namely that as our economy becomes more automated as there's less need for the eight hour day the 40 hour week we seem to on the other hand be creating the demand for occupying people's time in what we traditionally call work. Is this a collision course of course. What I would want to start with with some model about a lump of labor. And a lump of leisure and ask how do you want to distribute this over a person's life time. And I think we seem to be talking about shorter work weeks and shorter work days
rather than say a longer work life or certainly no reduction in the work life and interspersing that work life than with sabbaticals if you want to call in that longer vacations. But the main point to me is I think we're making a mistake in lowering the age at which we force people or encourage people to retire and leave the labor market altogether. It's too long a period the period between retirement and death has increased dramatically over the last 50 or 60 years and I think it will if we don't change the pattern increase dramatically. Say by the by the year 2000. So you see you are going to accept that you see a fundamental need for the restructuring of the relationship between work and non-work time. Right now the little bits put in big bit and some and some dramatic radical way right. Somebody has made the proposal that instead of having everybody go
to college for four years from 18 to 22 that you more or less establish credit you're entitled to four years of school and use it as you will over the next 20 or 30. I think that would be great because one of the results would be that people would would redistribute the points in time when they would take these types of education would seem to also spiritually refresh some of the ageing people who seem to narrow their interest as they grow older. Or is that prejudicial. While I don't want to get into that question I think people do need a change so that they don't become bored they don't become atrophied in their intellectual as well as a physical abilities. And a lot of times I think people don't know what's bugging them. They might give a wrong explanation I think some of the right explanation for certain kinds of molasses among people is real. I think that one explanation has to do with the fact that they're in a job too long
and then you change of pace. They might need either a nice long vacation or they might need a re-education for a new kind of job. And I'm convinced that's going to be that's one of the ways of the future. We already see here and there are dramatic cases of people in very good jobs by good we mean of course lots of money. But the individual saying I've had it I need a change of pace and they they do it. One of the national magazines did I think it to hit my bread and made career changes. Is there something. Basic though about the notion of having to work. Couldn't people so to speak learn to take on work as an equivalently good thing to do. While I I think what most people need and I don't want to be caught on making a generalization it's supposed to apply to everybody. I do believe it applies to most. Most people need to have some kind of activity that is meaningful to them
and meaningful to other people. I don't think we're going to have a great cultural revolution in making certain non-work activities as meaningful as certain kinds of work activities. There are certain things for example that you and I as members of community want done either for us or for other people and we for a while might rely on volunteer help. Then we do and this is meaningful to these volunteers. What we find in so many of these activities is that you can't get enough volunteers and secondly the volunteers don't stay in it long enough. But then you then you find well if you pay them for their expenses. Then they will continue or you get more people to participate. And then if you give them beyond their expenses some other kind of reward through some privilege or through pieces of paper are pieces of metal called money that you increase the number of people you increase the odds of a given number of people who want to stay in that
activity. And you know what that's work. They might not call it work but it's work. And I don't think Washington is the only place in this country where you run across so many people who say quote they are retired you ask them what are they doing. And they tell you all the things they're doing some of which are paid that are rewarded in terms of money. And many of which sounds like work and to me it sounds like work except they say they're retired. I think it's interesting this point you make about the aging workers so to speak needing something that reinforces self-esteem something which is meaningful. This appears also to be the cry of the youth. Can we anticipate if you will political Anschluss in which the young and the old get together against them in the middle very often you know that that fits the old bit about the grandparent the grandchild able to communicate with each other better better than the middle generation. It is true that some youth are becoming concerned about it.
The way we're treating the agent we think enough for I know that the Raiders Nader's Nader's Raiders has a group of people who are working the problems of the age in the more they get into it the more they discover some scandals that are worth attacking and not just Don Quixote's tilting their lances at the windmill. I think that this question of work for youth is related to this whole question of how do you distribute work over a lifetime and what I'm saying it has to include also. Work experience for you are meaningful activity outside the classroom. Interspersed in the learning process let's say like they have at colleges like like any awkward person goes to school for three months and he works for three months and it goes on for five years. I think those kinds of people are better prepared incidentally for life and for the
job market. They got a better idea of what work is like and the person who is whose education is compressed into one uninterrupted period of X years and then thrown into the labor market. You know it's interesting that the your observations imply a thorough going reorganization of the economics of work in leisure which I think carries us to the political issue with the growing number of older people and the growing dissatisfaction with a number of the facets of their life. Do they represent an important new political power. Well I don't think several ways to answer that one is depending on what you know where do you cut off what's the age cutoff. I do know that the people who vote 54 percent based on the 1968 presidential election 54 percent of the voters in 1968 were over the age of 45 at one point the other is in each age group.
The percentage who actually vote. It is very low in the very young age groups and then it starts it starts going up and up and up remains rather constant. Maybe at 70 percent I can't recall the figures now and then only after the age of 75 doesn't begin to go down and approximate the voting percentage of the under 30 age group. So that's a that's an important political consideration. The political implication being that there will be more older voters proportionately younger voters while on the critical yes they have a higher voting turnout. And I also think that the degree to which we have retired people not working full time and in relatively good health releases releases a large number of them compared to the younger age groups for political activity and for many of them that becomes meaningful. So that would be appropriate timely and of personal interest to them.
People frequently speak perhaps again prejudicially of the ages being conservative generally conservative not only politically. First I would ask Do you concur with this sort of thing. And secondly does that have political implications for the nation. I don't know what the latest figures are on the general question of how conservative the aged are in political matters I think we have to pin it down to specific issues they certainly were not the most conservative when it came to the issue of how to finance Medicare or Social Security for example. I also think that a lot of the conservatism that. They allegedly have at the present time is due to their disproportionate origins in the rural areas where they might work. Conservatism might be more prevalent. You know we're dealing with the
question of the future the future aged will of been reared in large urban areas and we don't know completely how urbanization affects political attitudes I happen to think that it increases the odds. For people to be more receptive to new ideas and if that is the opposite of conservatism then I would predict that for the future the aged will be less conservative than the age of today. I don't know whether mentioning your question yes that is like a fascinating possibility that we not only will have an ageing population but in fact they may be strongly change or anything. I think the I think the gap in education between the. The old and the young will also decline in the future. There's the statistics will indicate I believe that the difference in the between median education of the old and the
young today is less than it was in the past and we can expect that the gap will be less in the future unless there is a sort of absolute maximum on education that people can get and the people who are going to survive incidentally into the future and be old are going to be the more educated as well. So that the difference in education between the old and the young will be minimized at least in terms of number of years of schooling. I don't know about you know the content of the. So you're saying that again as a derivative of your original observation that middle aged men of today as the old men of tomorrow that today's young people will really be what characterizes the elderly of the future. I think a lot of what characterizes the youth of the day will carry over into the future. Well it's a fascinating prospect. We see inklings of this I think in some places the understand the down in Florida it's not at all uncommon for both the youthful and the aged to be living together without
benefit of clergy. And I hadn't thought of that commonality again I don't even know about it. But I think we get together on that one yet right. That brings us to the question of the elderly as people we really haven't talked about some of the problems of being told the fact perhaps physical decline and perhaps mental decline. Do you have some observations on that. If you go to the future. Well in terms of the future I think that obviously there are there are points at which an individual begins to decline in some physical or intellectual ability. I just keep hitting the point that point that age is rising after which decline sets in and this is it comes back again to the use of and the misuse of averages. I think that. Even without any radical improvement in the health of any given generation of the
aged We certainly are making improvements in the health of the younger population and then as they get older they will be in much better shape than the age of tomorrow. Physically I don't I don't think we can make the same predictions about the aging of tomorrow from what we know about the age of today. That's my base but do you see the fact that there will be more aged and of necessity there for those with more limited mobility and more limited physical capabilities. Having effects on such things as community structure and housing for example will this lead to a drive back to the city where the centralization and the convenience and so on may be important to them. I think the types of people that I'm predicting will be around the year 2000 as they hit their 50s 60s 70s will want that type of. Living arrangement on the other hand one could argue that there might not be
such a thing as the central city in the city of tomorrow or there might be a bunch of nuclei of Central City activities. On the other hand if you get large enough numbers of the aged wanting to live together with you might have what they have in Copenhagen today have the sort of old folks city. Within the city of Copenhagen they have a mayor and they have all of the Sylvie's they need from couples living together in regular type apartments with due consideration for their particular needs are. If they get sick they go across the square to a to a clinic if they have to stay for for several days ago to what you and I might call a good nursing home. And then they go back. Unless it's a terminal case the numbers that we talk about might make that one of the many options
open to the to the aged there's no such thing as the aged to begin with and I think what we've got to allow in the future is a range of choice for individuals and. Many individuals will be old by the way I presume the usual observation is correct that women survive to a greater extent than men. Does this have any special implications for the future. Why is it certainly does in terms of let's say income because the women get less money by what's going on my mind is what's happening today that's going to affect different patterns in the future. Let's you know let's speculate what if the Women's Liberation Movement is in part successful if not completely successful. I wonder how that's going to change the sex ratio of the aged. Because the argument has been that the reason men die at a lower age than women is that they take on all these responsibilities and strains and stresses
of of modern living. Well if we equalize those strains and stresses then maybe the gap will be lowered between the two sexes and will have fewer widows than we have today. Women may start working themselves to death a man may have easily aged right but that would be an interesting kicker in the women's lib movement. One of the things that one associates with the aged is what some call anime or alienation and a feeling of isolation and so forth. Again is this something that it's an artifact or is this something that's generally intrinsic to old age. Well being a sociologist I would say it's an artifact. And let me just quickly give one example of what I mean. There have been in the school combined the political with what you're talking about. There's been studies showing that the age of voting against local school bond issues in those communities where the schools have not included them in let's say evening programs or where they in general feel that the
society has rejected them. And then some of these school organizations have recognized where they lost the vote and began to include the aged in their activities and to change the vote behavior. And if I'm not mistaken it may even have changed some of our empirical measures of what we call on a mean alienation or the feeling of estrangement or the feeling that you can't trust other people. And so on. Presumably you're saying here that the the age themselves would benefit in having new horizons open to them new opportunities for countering the enemy and nightly in a general community would benefit from having less gnomic individuals. Let me ask you a final question. Since the inevitable is ahead of all of us or most of us anyway I think there are some things we can be dogmatic about. How would you recommend what one thing would you recommend that we do to prepare her own old age.
Well I think one thing is the big we remain active and not necessarily segregate yourself with merely the the aged or at least pick an active aged group. And I think it's important to develop longer periods of retirement or longer periods of vacation so that when one is forced into a long period of vacation you're better that's retirement you're better able to adjust to it. Well thank you Dr. Harold Shepherd there's been a fascinating discussion of old age and its future. This is Joe codes for the world future society meeting you thank you and good night. You've been listening to the Future off of another in a series of discussions of alternative futures with Joe coats of the world future society. The preceding program originated from the studios of WUOM you found
- The future of
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- Old Age
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 71-7-19 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- APA: The future of; 19; Old Age. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-q23r0k3f