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Grand Challenges of Our Aging Society: Workshop Summary
inadequate; the labor market is not accommodating to older workers; obesity and lack of exercise continue to be problems; the training of doctors—whether in the gray areas of decision making, new technologies, or palliative care—is lacking; and communities are not up to providing the transportation and other services that older people need. Thus, Butler summarized, the baby boomers are not prepared for aging, and society is not prepared for them. Addressing this lack of preparedness is the immediate challenge. Butler also recommended further research on the interrelationship of health and wealth. His final suggestion was much greater attention to and funding for longitudinal studies so as to ground a life-course perspective on many issues of physical and cognitive health, income and productivity, meaning and engagement, and community involvement over the entire life span.
James Jackson of the University of Michigan offered several observations and insights. He noted that many of the symposium presentations had addressed averages, with insufficient attention to the profound heterogeneity of the aging population. He also remarked that the age grading of society will change because of both increased longevity and declining fertility. Thus, not only will people live longer, but they will live in a radically different society—a situation that merits further appreciation. Jackson’s third emphasis was on the myriad connections and mutual influences of global flows in trade, capital, and migration as well as intergenerational linkages. He then underscored the importance of a life-course perspective and consideration of cohort and period events that occur to different groups as they age over a particular point. Jackson also discussed the inadequacy of models that assume people behave rationally. In practice, individuals and families make decisions without full information or without using the information they do have well. That will affect how they handle the problems and challenges of an aging society. Jackson also asserted that as society has “essentialized” certain ages (such as 62 for early retirement, 65 for full retirement), this has precluded thinking in new ways about retirement and other issues. Similarly, he suggested a rethinking of retirement as a status. If only people who are economically productive are valued, where does that leave retirees? Jackson suggested further thinking about the different reasons for exiting retirement, ranging from economic necessity to self-actualization, since these would result in very different experiences. Finally, Jackson urged that synchrony be improved at all levels—between policies and programs, between state and federal programs, between diverse policies targeting any one age group, or between policies addressing different age groups. It is important to think about how these all go together and “impact people as they traverse their life courses, as families traverse their life courses, and indeed, as institutions change as we become an aging society.”