What is old age these days? That is the million-dollar question we as a society are currently struggling to define. The modern Western culture, especially American culture, has long held a negative stigma of aging and death, resulting in many people fearing old age. Currently in our society, many people approaching their 50s and 60s strive to maintain youthfulness through healthy lifestyles, modern advances in health care, and cosmetic procedures. There are 77 million Baby Boomers currently in America, people who were born between 1946 and 1964. Approximately 10,000 of this group turn retirement age per day, and they hold two-thirds of the disposable income in our economy, making them a powerful economic force.
But how are these aging members of our community viewed and treated? Society’s view of the aging is influential in how we define old age. Culturally, people in old age are often depicted as weak, bumbling, confused, or even comical. This contrasts immensely with the view of the aging populations in many other cultures. In many cultures around the world, older people are respected for their wisdom and celebrated for reaching old age, when not long ago in many parts of the world life expectancy was significantly lower than today. In America, it is common for older people to be moved into retirement communities and nursing homes, whereas in other countries such as Korea, India, and China, such moves would be considered dishonorable and disrespectful. Multigenerational family units live together, often with the older members considered the family leaders.
With so many Baby Boomers aging in America, many of whom want to retain vitality and continue to be celebrated as part of our youth-obsessed culture, we need a new image and definition of aging. Often, cultural norms and beliefs are shaped by economic factors. Advertising and marketing media target youth and youthfulness in order to move the economy forward. But with the ever-growing number of people reaching retirement age and holding the majority of spending power, we are starting to see a shift in marketing strategies aimed at an older generation.
It is common for people in America in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s to be fit, healthy, and active. Advances in modern medicine have extended life expectancy in America from 69 years of age in 1960 to 78 years in 2016. Attitude and lifestyle choices play an important role in the “youthfulness” of the aging population. Baby Boomers are actually more likely to start a new business than Millennials, and 45% of them consider themselves entrepreneurs. Staying active and independent, especially regarding health care choices, takes the burden off the children of aging parents. Our attitude as a society that the aging are equally valuable contributors to the community goes a long way in ensuring that older people get the same medical attention and care as the younger generations, helping them stay viable and happy longer.
So, if you, or your parents, are reaching what is typically thought of as “retirement” age, 60 to 65 years old, how do you view old age? Is it an exciting time of renewal where new opportunities can be sought out? Is it a time to celebrate your hard-won wisdom and to share it with your family and community through service to others? There are fewer “rules” on behavior, style, and fashion that are applied to older people than ever before. Gone is the expectation of “Granny” haircuts and sensible shoes. Gone is the image of retiring and sitting on the front porch in a rocker and feeling depressed. We live in exciting, fast-paced times where new technology and medicines change our lives daily. There is more opportunity today than ever before to be a part of cutting-edge discoveries, and the older generation wants and deserves a slice of that modern life.
What is your answer, when you ask yourself,” Am I old?”