Our online host, Contexts magazine, is offering some free content, a selection of essays on aging, now through March 15th. I borrowed the material below from the essay, “Facts and Fictions About an Aging America.”
The average American is aging… and fast. Advances in public health — especially related to childbirth, infant mortality, and infectious disease — have led to longer lives. “The result is that death has been permanently shifted from a phenomenon among the young to one of the old.” This means that the age distribution in the U.S. has shifted from one shaped like a neat pyramid (in 1900), to one shaped kind of like a house (in 2000), to whatever shape that is they’re predicting in 2050:
The great news is that “active life span is increasing faster than total life span.” That is, even though we live longer, we spend fewer of our years sick or disabled than ever before. This is called (so you can impress your friends) the “compression of morbidity.”Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Kevin — March 8, 2010
Treating 85+ as a single category worked ok until around 2000.
Now it is clear that the 5-year subdivision should be continued to around 95 or 100, to avoid giving the graph a misleading shape.
Ketchup — March 8, 2010
I don't know what all the consequences will be from this shift in the center of gravity of the population structure, but I would hope that it will consequently diminish ageism and this cultural obsession with youth. I also hope that people (women especially) will be less concerned in looking young once they are past 60. They can always try to look younger, but there is nothing more ridiculous than the drive to look something which is physically impossible after a certain age.
And I also (perhaps naively) wonder if this increasing number of people past 60 will still conform to the "man searching for a younger woman" that is so common with single/divorced older men (but not old men). I'm thinking about the fact that many men are widowed and divorced later in life, and at least a bit lonely, and may have less choice about younger women once they really start getting old. Just a thought.
Moody — March 8, 2010
That's a beautiful graph.
Jess — March 8, 2010
Maybe pink wasn't the BEST color to represent this data...? I'm trying to pay attention, but all I see is a giant vulva.
Basiorana — March 8, 2010
I worry a great deal about this. Older generations tend to be more conservative than younger ones on average... Is this going to be the end of progress, as we live in a world where the 65+ demographic is active enough to work, and thus prevents younger people from entering politics, science, religious leadership, top levels of industry, etc to the point where all our leaders are elderly? Will we face a world of stagnation and conservatism where the young are forced into drudgery positions until they are in their fifties, then finally make money in time to have to support their children so their grandchildren don't starve?
It may seem hyperbolic, but this is already happening in academia, where it is next to impossible for a young person to gain tenure or a lab position. In my field, biology, the professors and heads of labs are at their youngest in their forties, usually 50-70. They have a staff of postdocs in their late twenties and thirties working for them-- a thirty year old who has been a student for 25 years, on a small stipend not enough to support a single person. Everyone else makes shit pay except the top few, all elderly. In the fifties and into the eighties, where despite our problems most of our academics were relatively young and doctoral students got a lab within a few years, we saw some of the fastest change and most amazing breakthroughs in science and technology. Now that pace is starting to slow, as tenured professors refuse to do innovate science that might challenge their preconceptions.
Psychology has shown that the older one gets, the harder it is to change their ideas, belief systems, and their way of life. After fifty, despite the ads about a better life, it's all but impossible-- we're too set in our ways. We might lose some weight, but we won't challenge our preconceptions or accept challenges from others. The world may face a future of cultural stagnation if this trend continues.
captain crab — March 8, 2010
All of you young people need to start having babies!
Allan V — March 9, 2010
So, how is it that there are going to be _more_ 50-54 year olds in 2050 than there were 0-4 year olds in 2000? And more 65-69 year olds in 2050 than there were 15-19 year olds in 2000? Just to take a couple of examples. I'm...very puzzled as to how they got these numbers.
Age, Education, and Functional Decline » Sociological Images — March 9, 2010
[...] This is the second post using material borrowed from the essay, “Facts and Fictions About an Aging America.” Our online host, Contexts magazine, is offering some free content, including this essay, now through March 15th. See yesterday’s post here. [...]
Bugaboo — March 9, 2010
Don't you think this discussion needs to include some consideration of how abortion has affected population growth and the age spectrum? Aside from arguments about what is right or wrong, if every abortion were somehow magically undone, I think that the average age would come way down.
I'm not sure though, as I'm no statistician. Any thoughts?
queenstuss — March 9, 2010
I find it quite fascinating that there were so few 10-14 and 15-19 years olds in 1950 (maybe related to the Great Depression?) yet they appear to have had the most babies, judging by the number of 35-39 and 40-45 year olds in 2000.
bob — March 10, 2010
Interesting historically, but a bad predictions. Odds are high that by 2050 people won't be dying anymore (at least not in significant numbers), which will really mess up these numbers.
Jon22 » the amazing thing — October 20, 2010
[...] change in the brain. If you have a stroke, can we help you recover? Yes. As the developed world grows older on average, what can we do to protect the brain from the ravages of age? Back in ’86, two [...]
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