The Crossing

Sometime in the very near future, the world will witness something that has never before happened in the history of homo sapiens:  the number of people 65 and older will be larger than the number of children under the age of 5.

Demographic experts call it “the crossing.”  It’s the point at which the upward moving line on the age chart representing people 65 and up crosses the declining line representing children under the age of 5.  The result is like a big X on a graph, because once the crossing occurs, those two trend lines are forecast to continue until, by 2050, the number of senior citizens will be more than double the number of young children.

census_bureau-chart-65_and_older-under_5-1Why is this happening?  The old age part is the easiest to explain:  advances in medicine and treatment of disease are allowing people to live much, much longer than they ever have before.  We’re routinely setting records on life expectancy and the number of people who have lived past 90 and even 100.

The other line on the graph, though, isn’t so readily explained.  In some countries, people are just having fewer children, or no children at all.  This isn’t a worldwide phenomenon, but one that has focused on certain “first-world” countries.  Japan, the European countries, and Canada are all among the oldest countries in the world.  In Japan, 26.6 percent of the population already is over age 65.

It’s not hard to foresee the serious challenges posed by these long-term trends.  Without young people in the demographic pipeline to grow up, get jobs, and contribute their tax dollars, it’s hard to see how the social welfare model can be sustained.  The health care and retirement payment costs of a growing number of elderly ultimately will overwhelm the tax contributions of a shrinking number of workers.  And eventually, old people do die — which means that the “old” countries will soon become much less populated countries.  What will it mean to Japanese culture and the Japanese social model and, for that matter, Japanese influence on the world stage when that country’s population is but a fraction of its current size?

One other thing about demographic trends — they’re not readily reversed.  We’ve been moving toward “the crossing” for decades, and soon it will be here.  Get used to seeing a lot of gray hair in the world, folks.

 

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Sunday Night Out

Last night Kish and I went out to dinner and then hoofed it over to the nearby Southern Theater for a ProMusica Chamber Orchestra program called “The Romantic Piano.”  It was an excellent show that featured pieces by Bizet, Saint-Saens, and Schubert.  (The Schubert selection was his rollicking Symphony No. 1, which was a pretty impressive piece of work by a 16-year-old.)

IMG_0840It was a great end to a wonderful weekend that (finally) let us enjoy some terrific weather, and it was intentional, too.  Lately we’ve been making a conscious effort to get out of the house and do something fun on Sunday nights.  We’ve gone to dinners and musical performances and nightclubs, and when some of the spring and summer shows start, like the summer movie series at the Ohio Theater, I’m sure we’ll add those to the mix, too.  We’ve found that stodgy old Columbus has a lot to offer on Sunday nights.

The theory behind this effort is simple:  let’s end the weekend with a bang, not a whimper.  Sure, you can ease in to Sunday night, plop down on the sofa, put your feet up on the coffee table, and watch whatever HBO or your cable channel of choice is showing, and it’s a perfectly acceptable capstone to the weekend.  Unfortunately, I usually end up nodding off if I watch too much TV, and I always think, uncomfortably, of how Angela Lansbury racked up huge ratings with the blue-haired set on Sunday night with Murder, She Wrote.  It seems like camping out in front of the flat screen and watching TV on Sunday night is something old people do.  I’m not quite ready to go there, yet.

That doesn’t mean we won’t be watching the first installment of the new Game of Thrones next week — we’re not being puritanical about it, and I’m as interested in learning whether Jon Snow survives as the next person.  We are realizing, though, that there’s real value in getting off your duff, off the couch, and out into the community on the last night of the weekend.

Slowing The Aging Process

Mention “aging” to someone in their 50s — like me — and you’re likely to provoke a grim expression.  We feel the aging process in our muscles and bones, we get that ugly twinge after a sudden move, and we see it when we look in the mirror and notice the grey hairs, the wrinkles, and the pathetic turkey neck.

But what if aging could be slowed?  What if therapies and treatments could be developed that would decelerate the ravages of time, or stave it off altogether?

Scientists are looking into the possibility that gene therapy, hormone treatments, and other approaches might have that effect and have been using some of the new treatment concepts in experiments on animals.  Economists believe that treatments that successfully delay aging — and thereby allow people to be productive and healthy longer — could have enormous economic consequences.

Speaking as one of the aging generation, I’m all in favor of seeing whether reasonable treatments can be developed.  At the same time, however, I question whether heroic efforts should be devoted to deferring the effects of aging when there are many other public health issues that also need attention.  And a public health focus on aging makes sense only if the years that are added are healthy, sane, active, non-institutionalized years.  When you regularly visit a nursing home and see how many Americans are living their final years, you can legitimately question whether living longer is inevitably a great thing.

Yes, It’s November

It is November 1.  Today many Americans will shake their heads sadly and say to a loved one, co-worker, or friend:  “Wow, can you believe it’s November already?  This year really has flown.”

If you find yourself making such a scintillating observation, you need to face facts — you’re obviously getting up there.  There is no surer sign of aging than remarking ruefully on the rapid passage of time.  AARP enrollment scouts that have infiltrated the general population listen for such comments and immediately arrange for membership mailings to be sent to the speaker.  Salesmen of retirement planning products target such people for detailed sales presentations on the merit of annuities.  You may as well make permanent reservations at the “early bird” sitting at the nearest inexpensive cafeteria that gives the Golden Buckeye card discount, lay in a lifetime supply of bluing rinse, and hitch your trousers up to nipple height.

In case you’ve forgotten, young people never say such things.  If they even notice that another month has gone by, it’s probably because it means that Christmas is another month nearer and, perhaps, it’s time to start behaving so they have a reasonable chance of being rewarded by Santa Claus.  Or, they are excited about Thanksgiving and seeing whether they can eat even more turkey and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie than they did last year.  Or, they’re in high school or college and are looking forward to that long winter break when they can sleep in even later, get together with their friends, and worry their parents when they don’t come home until 2 a.m.

So, if you’re tempted today to express sad surprise that November is here, do yourself a favor and refrain.  You’re only demonstrating that, mentally at least, you’re far along on the road to geezerdom.