Common Myths of Aging
Myths are inaccurate, and if we are all growing older, we might want to step into paying attention to the stereotypes and discouraging myths of aging and work now to change these myths.
This is the third in a series of articles I am writing regarding aging. The first article addressed happiness in aging and how we get happier as we age, with 82 years old being our peak for the happiness curve. If you want to refresh yourself, refer to the article, As We Age, We Become Happier. In the second article, Envisioning Growing Older with the Right Data (Frame of mind), we covered two common myths of aging. In this article, we will cover two more of the five myths that Laura Carstensen, the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, talks about being the five worst myths out there. (Carstensen, 2011)
Work Hard, Retire Harder
Americans are living longer and actually retiring earlier than people who retired in the 1960s-1980s. Adding years onto our lives has added more years of leisure. It may sound good in theory but are 30 and 40-year retirements really optimal? Carstensen says it well when she describes the transition of moving from a life of “near-constant work to one of near-total leisure”. There was a time when it made sense to retire at age 65 years and maybe spend ten years in retirement. But now we are literally talking about living into our 80s and 90’s. This adds more stress to those early years when we have to now also save for a retirement that will last decades. Six in ten American workers are saving for retirement, yet more than half have saved less than $25,000. (Carstensen, 2011) We have retirees not being able to afford to retire at 65 years. We have the younger generation as the most stressed in the workforce, raising a family and attending to their jobs, paying off college debt, saving for their own children to go to college, managing children and parents, and saving for even more retirement for more years. Carstensen makes the point that we have elongated our retirement, but maybe we need to pause and add some space and time in the young and middle-aged years. This could give some space to enjoy the family more, maybe at times working part time so they can be present for their children and families, and then make the work life longer but move into fewer hours as we get older. This may look different with some incentives for flexible work schedules, job retraining, the ability to work from home, or maybe finding a new career. The current model was developed for short lives, not the long lives we are now living.
Older People Drain our Resources
This is the “scarcity” myth. This myth feeds into the fear that if the aging population is around for extra decades, there will not be enough. With this myth is the assumption that older people are not contributing to society but just taking resources that will be used up, preventing younger generations from having access. This feeds into the idea that there is global overpopulation, and this will accelerate the depletion of the natural environment. The truth is that longevity is not what is causing population growth. Longevity decreases fertility because people have fewer children when they don’t expect or fear infant mortality. The other part of this myth, two opposing views, ties into the fear that the older population will take jobs from the younger generations. The older generation will just take, and don’t let them have a job as they will prevent someone younger from getting that job.
We clearly haven’t been able to really lean into the message of not letting the older generation work because, of late; it is hard to even hire as there are not enough applicants even to interview. If the boomers retire later and work just five extra years, it is estimated that it could increase the American growth domestic product by 7-8% by the year 2030. (Carstensen, 2011) It makes sense to support an active, healthy older generation that wants to work and be a productive part of society.
I hope you took time to evaluate if you have bought into some of these myths about the older population. We need to become aware of and change our inaccurate beliefs. Myths are inaccurate, and if we are all growing older, we might want to be paying attention to the stereotypes and discouraging myths and work now to change these myths. You can start by trying to get to know those in this generation personally. Ask questions and learn more about the older people in your life. Like any generation, all our not cut from the same cloth. Be curious. Pay attention. Ask questions. Step into learning more about this generation, as the goal is probably that you make it to this generation. And if you do, you want accurate knowledge as you step into living longer. In the next issue, I will cover the final of the five common myths of aging.
Carstensen, L.P. (2011). A long bright future. New York: Public Affairs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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