Should age matter?! I bet you think I am talking about me. Just because I am older (middle aged), it isn’t always about me. Alright, I am just past middle aged, I am sixty-six (66) years old, but as healthy as a thirty-five (35) year old! I expect to live to a hundred, but more importantly thirty (30) years in retirement (again). Read on because how we feel about age will affect you too!
In Western society, age does not receive much respect. In the United States, we do not look to older people as wise and experienced, but rather as a burden to society. It is a troubling issue! As a country, we are more concerned if Social Security and Medicare will be solvent for Baby Boomers. If we really cared about our aging population, we would find a way to keep it solvent without just making cuts to it. Sooner or later, all of us will age and need some help.
Some older people are still working because they need to because they did not save enough for retirement. Can you imagine working in your sixties, seventies or eighties? Some people choose to keep working because they enjoy their career or job. I was a teenager in the 1960s and never thought I would be able to enjoy some of the rock n roll bands forty (40) plus years later. The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Aerosmith, Beach Boys, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, The Eagles and ZZ Top to name just some of them.
I realize their fans are probably the same age, but I think there are some new fans too. Advances in medicine and a variety of other things are allowing older people to stay active later in life. Michael E, DeBakey was a famous heart surgeon. He was performing heart surgery well into his eighties! He stayed active working well into his nineties contributing surgical procedures and teaching until his death at ninety-nine (99) years old. John Wooden retired UCLA basketball coach who won more national championships than any other college basket ball coach in history was still active in his nineties. He retired from coaching in his sixties, but kept doing speaking engagements into his nineties. There are many older people doing worthwhile work who are just not famous.
So why do we view older people so negatively? It doesn’t stop with older people though. We view young people in a negative way too. New college graduates have had a difficult time finding work because of lack of experience. Let’s face it, isn’t that code for too young. I realize the bad economy and limited number or job openings contribute to this dilemma, however competition is stiff. There are certain careers that are over when your reach thirties. Models, actors, actresses, Olympic and professional athletes peak early and either retire or find different roles. How many professional or Olympic athletes are still playing into their forties? Not many!
There are minimum age for many professions such as firefighters, police and professional athletic careers. I think these minimum requirements make sense, but I am sure there are people who think differently. We have minimum age requirements for being president too. Funny, there are no minimum experience requirements to become President of the United States. I am much more concerned with experience than I am about age, but the electorate at large is not. Just look at who was elected president in the last fifty (50) years. There is always concern about older candidates being electable if they are in their seventies.
Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life and there is no concern about their abilities to do important work into their eighties or nineties. I would think their decisions could impact the entire country and yet there is no concern. President Reagan may have had Alzheimer’s disease as President, but no one was concerned. Perhaps President of the United States is not that important! I guess the checks and balances make the position less important. Then why is the selection and election so important?
Recently, we saw the Catholic Pope step down because of age and health. If you are in poor health you should step down no matter what your age. This was the first time in some seven hundred years that a sitting Pope stepped down. I wonder if the candidate Pope went through a physical before he was elected. I am sure President Reagan had a physical each year, why didn’t they discover he had Alzheimer’s? I think they kept it hidden. My mother had Dementia in her late nineties, but it was discovered because I asked the doctor to evaluate her.
Age is not exclusive to people! I notice that companies, institutions and publications celebrate how old they are. I think we have respect for longevity, although in some places we tear down buildings because of age. Schools and universities display their founding prominently on their main building and their materials. Companies will celebrate their longevity because it shows success over a long time. There are buildings, monuments and other things that are over a 1,000 or more years old. We flock to see the Egyptian pyramids, Grand Canyon, Taj Mahal, Venice Canals, churches, Tower of London, European castles and spend hours in museums to see other older artifacts. What is our fascination with old stuff, but not people?
Why does this all matter? If older people do not leave their jobs and retire, young people will have difficulty finding work. I think this last recession was a preview of the future. Older people were decimated by the 2008 stock market and housing bubble crash. They will keep on working until they rebuild their portfolio or have enough savings to retire. Baby Boomers comprise approximately 28% of the U.S. population. How many are still working? Supposedly, one in four Baby Boomers will continue working full time. That has to affect the number of job openings.
Personally, age should not matter! Skills and experience should be the criteria for selection or valued by society. If we do not do something for older workers, do not expect unemployment rates to change much. Unemployment is measured by who is collecting unemployment benefits. There are more people who are not counted such as the people who are no longer collecting unemployment. The real unemployment figure is much higher and reflects the difficulty of the recession. The implication of older workers working longer is far reaching and will ultimately affect the economy. Let’s not penalize older workers though because we need all kinds of workers in this economy. Should age matter?
Photo by: Brett Jordan
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