The liberation of growing old

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By Anne Karpf, op-ed, The New York Times |

LONDON — WHY do we have such punitive attitudes toward old people? Granted, the ancients did hideous things to elders who were unable to work but still needed food and care, but in more recent times, that had changed: In 18th-century New England, it was common for people to make themselves seem older by adding years to their real age, rather than subtracting them.

Yet today, the language used to describe the changing age composition of the population is little short of apocalyptic. We’re told that the “graying of America” is an “agequake” or a “demographic time bomb.”

In 2050, Americans age 65 and over are predicted to almost double in number to 83.7 million, one-fifth of the population. An aging population does pose real challenges, but increasing numbers of people of working age (as traditionally defined) are unemployed today, while growing numbers continue to work beyond pensionable age.

In reality, age can no longer be neatly correlated with economic activity. In particular, old people are themselves significant providers of care, notably the childcare provided by grandparents.

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