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The New Realities of Aging: Social and Economic Contexts

Jacqueline L. Angel and Richard A. Settersten, Jr.

This chapter addresses some of the new realities of aging as they are shaped by contemporary social and economic contexts. Changes in these contexts have dramatically altered the perceptions, behaviors, and opportunities of older people, which in turn affect the experiences and meanings of aging for everyone in society. With increasing globalization, aging populations also need to adapt to life in a diverse and multigenerational world. The primary objectives of this chapter are to describe these new realities and the processes that give rise to them; to examine some of their outcomes and implications; and to highlight the importance of viewing the science of human aging through a sociological lens.

We begin with some of the most significant social issues, examining the new configuration of the life course by considering the shifting boundaries and markers of different life periods; the erosion of traditional pathways through education, work, and retirement; and the future of aging based on what we know about younger cohorts. Next, we point to the growing diversity of family and social relationships and the new strengths, vulnerabilities, and ambiguities they bring, paying close attention to effects on social support, health, and intergenerational financial exchanges.

The discussion then turns to some of the most pressing economic issues. We describe the changing contingencies of retirement for individuals and groups and then examine a larger range of concerns related to public economies and aging policies and programs. It is here, especially, that we entertain the roles of various policies and institutions because they are crucial levers for both responding to these new realities and preparing for the future.



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6 The New Realities of Aging: Social and Economic Contexts Jacqueline L. Angel and Richard A. Settersten, Jr. This chapter addresses some of the new realities of aging as they are shaped by contemporary social and economic contexts. Changes in these contexts have dramatically altered the perceptions, behaviors, and opportu- nities of older people, which in turn affect the experiences and meanings of aging for everyone in society. With increasing globalization, aging popula- tions also need to adapt to life in a diverse and multigenerational world. The primary objectives of this chapter are to describe these new realities and the processes that give rise to them; to examine some of their outcomes and implications; and to highlight the importance of viewing the science of human aging through a sociological lens. We begin with some of the most significant social issues, examining the new configuration of the life course by considering the shifting boundaries and markers of different life periods; the erosion of traditional pathways through education, work, and retirement; and the future of aging based on what we know about younger cohorts. Next, we point to the growing diversity of family and social relationships and the new strengths, vulner- abilities, and ambiguities they bring, paying close attention to effects on social support, health, and intergenerational financial exchanges. The discussion then turns to some of the most pressing economic is- sues. We describe the changing contingencies of retirement for individuals and groups and then examine a larger range of concerns related to public economies and aging policies and programs. It is here, especially, that we entertain the roles of various policies and institutions because they are crucial levers for both responding to these new realities and preparing for the future. 95

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96 NEW DIRECTIONS IN THE SOCIOLOGY OF AGING REORGANIZATION OF THE LIFE COURSE The Shifting Boundaries of Life Periods The past century saw significant reductions in mortality, morbidity, and fertility (see Hardy and Skirbekk, this volume). These factors, which created aging societies, have fundamentally transformed human experience and the landscape of the life course (Settersten and Trauten, 2009). Old age is a prime example. Longer, healthier lives make it possible for individuals to become and be “old” in brand new ways. Old age extends multiple de- cades, but it is comprised of early and late phases that are often extremely different from one another. This is reflected in what has been called the “third” and “fourth” ages of life (e.g., Laslett, 1989). The “third age” can span several decades and is viewed as a time of opportunity and activity. It is a period during which most mature adults no longer have childcare or work responsibilities but are in good health and have other resources. Moen (2003) calls this period “mid-course” and emphasizes the possibil- ity of developing new identities and ways of being productively engaged, and of revising existing relationships and beginning new ones. The “fourth age,” in contrast, is defined by the three “Ds”: decrepitude, dependence, and death (Laslett, 1989). Individuals can expect major encounters with chronic illness to be followed quickly by death (the so-called compression of morbidity; see Fries, 2005). These categories underscore important distinctions among old age groups. Clearly, experiences related to aging into one’s 80s and 90s cannot be oversimplified or glorified, as the transition from the third to the fourth age is a difficult one. The advantages of the third age can quickly dissolve as health and resources change. Social gerontologists do a disfavor to older people when they actively promote images of successful aging that deny or underplay the hardships that come with growing old. These tensions are also exhibited in media depictions of old age (Harrington, Bielby, and Bardo, 2011). Longevity brings an important paradox: humans now live longer than ever before, and aspire to live even longer, yet this quest must be to also ensure that the quality of lives is commensurate with the quantity of years. The Shifting “Boxes” of Education, Work, and Leisure The past half-century also saw dramatic changes in the allocation of educational, work, and leisure experiences across the life course. A prime example relates to the three successive “boxes” of education early in life, work in the middle, and retirement at the end (e.g., Kohli, 2007). This three-box structure traditionally characterized the lives of men, but it also

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THE NEW REALITIES OF AGING 97 increasingly did so for women as their educational attainment and labor force participation grew. The boundaries and content of these three boxes, however, have been shifting and are even eroding (Settersten and Trauten, 2010). The early part of adult life, for example, has seen major extensions in education. Some young adults are postponing entry into the labor force as a full-time worker because of occupational ambitions; they pursue higher education and work concurrently or alternate between taking classes and going to work. These changes mean that individuals from recent cohorts are putting off saving for retirement, potentially reducing their resources in old age. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that gains in longevity have also extended the retirement period. In the middle-adulthood years, rapid technological change and inno- vation have similarly made it necessary for working-age adults to return to school or seek additional training that will allow them to update their skill set and knowledge to stay competitive in new markets. Yet scholar- ships and student loan programs are generally awarded only to full-time degree-seeking students, disqualifying most adults. As a result, expenses for educational activity must often be paid out-of-pocket, making a return to school unaffordable for many adults, especially if it also means losing health insurance. These constraints make it difficult for adults to improve their economic standing in the job market. The need to remain competitive has especially grown as “lifetime” models of work—in which employers and employees invest in a long-term partnership, and employee longevity in a firm means better wages, job security, job mobility, and pensions—have vanished. Stable work has itself become uncertain, and many jobs no longer come with health insurance or benefits or with the levels of protection they once did. This is especially reflected in “contingent” models of work characterized by time-bound con- tracts with no promise of work beyond those parameters—or which offer no employment contracts (Barker and Christensen, 1998). The shift toward contingent models of work, partly the result of the decline in manufacturing jobs, carries significant implications for social policies and for the financial security of individuals and families. For example, such a shift means that health-care coverage, pension plans, and Social Security benefit levels may be jeopardized or significantly lowered. Because careers have become more disjointed, it may also mean that individuals need unemployment insurance more often and for longer periods of time. Changes such as these affect the well-being not only of employees but also of the spouses and children at- tached to them as dependents and beneficiaries. Another consequence of these changes is that many older people are un- aware of when and how to transition into retirement and, specifically, how to gauge the end of their work years. As people approach the end of their

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98 NEW DIRECTIONS IN THE SOCIOLOGY OF AGING work years, a wider array of routes into retirement is now more common (see Moen, this volume). The last quarter of the 20th century witnessed a surprising trend toward early retirement that, when coupled with delays in full-time work at the front of adult life, meant that the period of gainful work became shorter. Evidence is now mounting, however, that the trend toward early retirement is reversing and will jump ahead by at least a few years (Hardy, 2011). This phenomenon is produced partly by incremental changes in eligibility ages for Social Security and partly by the need for indi- viduals to remain employed longer in order to support themselves and their family members. Older workers with defined contribution plans are much more likely to remain in the labor force than those with defined benefits plans (Pang, Warshawsky, and Weitzer, 2008). For many, the need to remain employed has also grown as a result of the current economic recession (Van Horn, Corre, and Heidkamp, 2011). In the changing world of work, men and women may anticipate work- ing for some time, but if their jobs disappear and they are unable to find another place of employment, then retirement becomes a kind of “default” status—at least until they manage to retrain or relocate. For others, the unpredictability of retirement income may mean that they think they will not be able to afford retirement at all. As inequality expands, retirement may also become bimodal: an intermittent period between jobs or when no more work can be found versus a planned interim period between employ- ment and when health declines impose limits on activities. Despite these and other changes, the three-box structure is created and reinforced by policies that regulate education, work, and retirement. When the lives of individuals depart from this three-box structure, whether by choice or out of necessity, they are penalized for it. Sociologists have important roles to play in both analyzing the effects of social policies on the life course and helping policy makers revise outdated policies that were based on an earlier model of the life course. Anticipating the Future of Aging Much knowledge about aging is based on cohorts born in the first few decades of the 20th century. The past century was punctuated by remark- able events and changes related to war, economic hardship and prosperity, health epidemics, civil rights reforms, and innovations in medicine, com- munication, and transportation. The Great Depression and military service during World War II, in particular, heavily marked the lives of men and women who are now old (see Settersten, 2006). These historical events and changes may be “hidden variables” (Spiro, Schnurr, and Aldwin, 1997) beneath much of the scientific knowledge base in gerontology. In terms of policies, these cohorts are also unique: their early lives saw and benefited

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THE NEW REALITIES OF AGING 99 significantly from the conception of the New Deal and its programs in the early 1930s; their military service, too, brought educational, housing, and other benefits related to the G.I. Bill after World War II; and they later benefited from the programs of the Great Society of the mid-1960s. These programs were also aimed at the middle class as they democratized opportunities (higher education, pensions, and job perquisites in the form of fringe benefits) and generated comparatively healthy rates of economic growth, which counteracted the economic forces of wealth inequality. Present understanding of the sociology of aging is based on the unique experiences of this cohort (see examples in Settersten and Angel, 2011). However, it is unclear how this knowledge will apply to future cohorts whose historical experiences have been very different from those who are currently old remains unknown. One way to increase this understanding is to become more intimately acquainted with cohorts who are not yet old. For example, negative public discourse surrounding the Baby Boom generation has focused on how its size has strained social institutions or undermined public resources (see also Schulz and Binstock, 2006). But it is important to remember that the physical, psychological, and social statuses of the Boomers are rather favorable relative to past cohorts. The recent surge of interest in the civic engagement of the young-old seems symbolic of the new potentials inherent in the Boomers (O’Neill, Morrow-Howell, and Wilson, 2011). Important insights for policy making will be found in prob- ing the implications of Boomers’ better positions, on average, in all aspects of aging as well as their aspirations and expectations for old age (Hughes and Waite, 2007). Their better statuses on average, however, are also un- dermined by the extraordinary variability and inequality among them. Becoming more closely acquainted with cohorts currently in early adulthood is also important. Members of these cohorts are experiencing a prolonged transition to adulthood, with significant delays in leaving home, finishing school, starting work, getting married or partnered, and having children (e.g., Settersten and Ray, 2010). Their routes into adulthood are more circuitous and do not match the linear models of life that underlie many contemporary policies related to education, work, and family, which creates risks. Relative to other cohorts, younger generations are in some ways better off and in some ways worse off; they have encountered new vulnerabilities as the service and knowledge sectors of the economy have grown (see Danziger and Rouse, 2007). Their worldviews on a wide range of social and political issues differ from previous cohorts (see Smith, 2005). As these young adults grow older, they, like the Boomers, will further chal- lenge much of what is now taken for granted about aging.

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100 NEW DIRECTIONS IN THE SOCIOLOGY OF AGING FAMILY AND SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS New Types of Relationships As the life course has been reorganized, so, too, have family and so- cial relationships. Marriage and families have been “deinstitutionalized,” and the social norms that once governed the expectations and obligations of individuals have weakened (Giddens, 1994; Kohli, 2007). Profound social change and modernization have left people with more choices and fewer constraints on their lives (Angel and Settersten, 2011). The dissolution of the “traditional” long-lived nuclear family is but a small part of the larger picture. The wide variety of family (and family-like) configurations and relationships today is driven by myriad factors, including serial divorces and remarriage across generations, multipartner fertility and nonmarital childbearing, and concurrent survival of multiple generations across many decades (Treas and Marcum, 2011). The geographic dispersion and mobil- ity of immediate family members also create new challenges for families. Some of these changes are tied to the demographic parameters dis- cussed earlier. Decreases in mortality have radically altered the “supply” of kin at different points in life and produced long-term joint survival of family members (Uhlenberg, 1996). In today’s demographic conditions, family relationships have the potential to become more important, active, and intense. These relationships may become more significant and positive all around because lower fertility has meant that there are fewer relation- ships in which to invest, they are of longer duration, and they exist across many generations. But the reverse is also possible, as the new demographic climate may in- stead foster family ties that are less important, active, and intense. Because the presence of these ties can be counted on for many decades, individuals may disinvest in family relationships under the assumption that they are always available and can be activated as needed. In this scenario, family ties become more vulnerable as time together becomes more sporadic and as families themselves become more fragmented and risk-laden. Much remains to be learned about the relative nature of nuclear, multigenerational, and extra-familial ties at different times in life, and about the circumstances under which relationships beyond parents and children are activated, by whom, and for what purposes. Of the many relationships in an extended family, grandparents, and especially grandmothers, are critically important, for they often serve as “safety valves” or “stabilizers” by solving problems and mediating between family members (Hagestad, 1986; Putney and Bengtson, 2003). The signifi- cance of grandparents is likely to continue growing amidst marital insta- bility (Uhlenberg, 2005). At the same time, grandparental ties, especially

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THE NEW REALITIES OF AGING 101 paternal ones, may be more tenuous because of that instability and geo- graphic dispersion (Bianchi et al., 2008). Some of the potential gains for relationships that come with longevity may be offset by divorce, which has remained at high and stable levels since the mid-1970s. Nearly half of all recent marriages will end in divorce, and first marriages that end in divorce last about eight years (Kreider, 2005). A major transformation in the past century is that divorce rather than death is now the great disruptor of family relationships (Uhlenberg, 1989). The nature of disruption that comes from divorce and remarriage is inherently different than death, although both clearly affect the quality and duration of relationships (Carr and Moorman, 2011). Divorce and remarriage also mean something different for young couples with underage children and shorter marriages relative to older couples with grown children and long- standing marriages. Unprecedented complexities result when divorce and remarriage occur multiple times within particular families or for multiple families in the extended family matrix. New complexities result from the increased proportion of single-parent households, cohabitating couples, gay and lesbian couples, and individuals who are intentionally single and child- less. There is much to learn about what these varied relationships mean for aging individuals and their families. New Ambiguities in Relationships Given the new diversity of relationships, many are no longer ascribed and must be continually negotiated. Relationships can become challenging because individuals do not know how to relate to one another in new life periods. Even relationships between parents and children, among siblings, and between spouses—which might be expected to be among the clearest or most meaningful of relationships—can be characterized by considerable ambivalence (Connidis and McMullin, 2002; Lüscher, 2005; Suitor et al., 2011). It is hard to know what it means to assume new family statuses and interact with others who are remotely or uncertainly related to each other, or whom are rarely seen. In addition, ambivalence can be exacerbated by the fact that meaningful family-like ties may also be socially and politically contested and unrecognized or even deemed illegitimate in the eyes of the law. Today, for example, little is known of what it means to be a “grand- parent,” let alone a “great-grandparent,” especially set against the back- drop of divorces, remarriages, multipartner fertility, and the like. New life conditions bring opportunities for involvement with grandchildren or great-grandchildren, but there is much to learn about how people fill these roles and what expectations they and others have. Grandparents have traditionally participated in the informal care of grandchildren (Pebley

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102 NEW DIRECTIONS IN THE SOCIOLOGY OF AGING and Rudkin, 1999). Recent years, however, have seen a sharp increase in grandparents who have primary responsibility for rearing grandchildren (Casper and Bianchi, 2002). Although many of these grandparents report that there are benefits associated with this responsibility, there may still be negative consequences for the physical, social, and psychological well- being of these caregivers (Letiecq, Bailey, and Porterfield, 2008; Williams, 2011). Further, relative to their counterparts who do not have caregiving responsibilities, grandparent caregivers are more likely to be single, live below the poverty line, and have health limitations, which make it all the more difficult to manage their caregiving responsibilities (Kreider and Ellis, 2011). From the vantage point of the child, research has also not yet begun to address the short- and long-term implications of having been raised by grandparents. The new complexities of family configurations also pose new questions about who is responsible for the care of older people, including growing proportions of people who have never married or parented, as well as aged parents who live far away from adult children and will inevitably need other informal sources of support and alternative social safety nets (Baca-Zinn, Eitzen, and Wells, 2010; Pavalko, 2011). Policies must assume not that families today have deficits relative to “traditional” forms, but that they have strengths—and that the challenges they face reflect dramatic social and economic changes of the past half-century (Koontz, 2000). SOCIAL DIMENSIONS OF VARIABILITY AND INEQUALITY ACROSS THE LIFE COURSE Decades ago, Neugarten (1979) noted that members of a cohort “fan out” over time as their unique life experiences accumulate and result in great variability by the time they are old. Inequality also tends to increase with age as a result of processes related to social stratification and exclu- sion and to the accumulation of advantage and disadvantage over the life course (Dannefer, 2003). How, then, are late-life experiences different based on health and wealth? Theories of the cumulative advantage and disadvantage process can identify those aspects of the causes and consequences of inequality at earlier points in life (e.g., Hamil-Luker and O’Rand, 2007; O’Rand, 2003). For example, advantages related to wealth may grow more monotonically over time while advantages related to health seem less straightforward. A large body of research shows that accumulated wealth through income and assets are major factors that separate those who are well off in retirement from those who are not (Shea, Miles, and Hayward, 1996). The functional form of this accumulation may depend on cohort, i.e., how age intersects with historical (economic) trends. For example, individual and family resilience

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THE NEW REALITIES OF AGING 103 may allow young adults of lower socioeconomic status to recover from health setbacks, but at some point, lowered resilience increases fragility and may lead to a profound drop in health status. Such gradual declines with discontinuities, then, reflect a significant degradation in modal health. On the other hand, the advantages of accumulated health, in contrast, may be linear in that those with poor health do not survive to old age, or far into old age; but among those who survive, age eventually becomes a “leveler” of sorts—it brings challenges that cannot be escaped or compen- sated for, even among those with plentiful resources (Ferraro, 2011; Herd, 2006; Lynch, 2003; Willson, Shuey, and Elder, 2007). A life course and intergenerational perspective, is helpful in examining the consequences of asset accumulation and group social mobility, topics that will be taken up in greater depth below. These topics are especially timely because the United States is becoming more ethnically diverse, and inequality does not exist independent of age, race, and gender (Warner and Brown, 2011). Age-, race-, and gender-based inequalities are reinforced by social policies that fail to address group- specific vulnerabilities, such as labor force disadvantages, blocked educa- tional opportunities, and unequal access to healthy lifestyles and health care (Angel and Angel, 2006; Herd, Robert, and House, 2010). In many respects, aging and old age in the United States are “private troubles” more than “public issues,” to use C. Wright Mills’ (1959) fa- mous phrases. That is, beyond the basic protections provided by old-age policies, they are conditions to be managed using whatever resources one has or can marshal for his or her own well-being. This is, of course, not only true of old age but of every period of life, particularly the vast space between childhood and old age, when few supports are offered (Settersten and Trauten, 2010). The emphasis on personal responsibility seems likely to grow as public resources dwindle and are further threatened by negative economic and political environments (Quadagno, Kail, and Shekha, 2011). It is too soon to gauge whether poverty will continue to be concentrated among the young and wealth among the elderly. What is certain, though, is that the growing divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” increases tensions about the resource differentials across racial/ethnic groups, and leaves even more vulnerable the groups who are already disadvantaged in terms of health and economic security (Whitfield et al., 2006; Willson and Hardy, 2002). Consider the case of the Hispanic population, the fastest growing American minority group, and by example Mexican Americans (Angel et al., 2012). Although the Mexican American population has on average ex- tremely low levels of education, health insurance, income, and wealth, they live a longer life than other racial/ethnic groups with similar economic pro- files. Even so, the possibility of an increased number of years characterized

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104 NEW DIRECTIONS IN THE SOCIOLOGY OF AGING by poor health and material hardship raises serious questions related to the potential burden on government and family that such dependency im- plies, especially for late-life immigrants (Angel et al., 2004). Many grown children in low-income minority families are increasingly ill-equipped to care for aging parents given their own family responsibilities, occupational mobility, and persistent financial strains (Dilworth-Anderson, Williams, and Gibson, 2002). Intergenerational Financial Exchanges and Inheritance The consequences of variability and inequalities across families are perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the financial exchanges and inheri- tance across generations. Family exchanges fuel inequalities in the larger society. Money and assets carry significant implications for family obliga- tions, expectations, and responsibilities (Angel, 2008). Gifts, bequests, and inheritance will take on greater salience for older Americans, especially for women, who fear that they will outlive their wealth (Dannefer and Shura, 2009). Yet there are scant sociological analyses on the connection between expectations and reality in living through the retirement years (Street and Desai, 2011). In normal family development, the pattern of instrumental aid, defined in terms of help with daily tasks such as transportation, caregiving, and money management between generations, is downward from the parent to the child until the child reaches adulthood (Hogan, Eggebeen, and Clogg, 1993; Silverstein et al., 2002). As the parent reaches later life, the flow of instrumental assistance begins to move upward from adult child to the parent (Eggebeen and Hogan, 1990). Studies are needed to examine how changes in the structure, values, ethnic composition, and economic status of families have affected their exchange of financial resources across gen- erational lines. Changes in the modern role of kinship should prompt new questions about intergenerational solidarity and the extent to which the receipt of financial assistance might attenuate notions of filial responsibility. Here, research shows (Silverstein, Gans, and Yang, 2006) that kin outrank step-kin in the support they receive. Remle (2011), for example, demon- strates that children in blended families are less likely to receive financial transfers, and when they do, they receive smaller amounts of money than grown children in nuclear families. Other questions point to the role of household and family characteris- tics in determining resource flows—quality, number of kin, the meaning of kin, and kin relationships. Intergenerational transfers involving mid- and late-life individuals as givers and receivers are affected by typical life- cycle problems. The timing of transfers in human capital investments can

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THE NEW REALITIES OF AGING 105 dramatically alter the course of an adult child’s life (Kohli, 2004). Parents across all social classes are now providing more support to their adult chil- dren, but there are extraordinary inequities in what young adult children get from their parents across social classes (Settersten and Ray, 2010). Moreover, the “empty nest” today comes later and remains open or clut- tered. These supports may bring financial, emotional, and other strains for parents at midlife and beyond. At the same time, it may be that the greater investments that parents now make in their young adult children may bring greater support when parents are old—if these children feel stronger filial obligations to reciprocate support to aged parents, or if aged parents have stronger expectations that it be provided (Angel and Settersten, 2011). The influence of economic crises or changes in inheritance and gift-re- lated policies on patterns of inter vivos (“between the living”) transfers and bequests from elderly parents and adult children have not been adequately studied and deserve further investigation. The current recession has surely reduced gift giving as retirement accounts decreased and as adult children experienced job losses and foreclosures, weakening their ability to provide resources and care. Furthermore, research is needed to precisely delineate anticipated and actual monetary and nonmonetary inter vivos transfers to children, siblings, and elderly parents, and to monitor how these patterns are affected by the new diversity and ambiguity of family relationships. RETHINKING THE MEANINGS OF RETIREMENT As a result of demographic trends discussed earlier, “retirement” has taken on new meanings. The days of a discrete transition from full-time work to full-time retirement are long past. There is great variability in the transition to retirement, both in terms of the age at which it occurs and the pace (Ekerdt, 2010; Hardy, 2011). The rapidly changing and economically vulnerable world has made retirement uncertain for many and even impos- sible for some. The decision to retire for most individuals is also not an individual decision but one that is tied to a spouse and the needs of other family members. This, too, makes retirement unpredictable. The definitions of retirement today therefore demand new explora- tion. Why and under what conditions do—or can—Americans retire? Will retirement become the privilege of a select few? How people think about retirement—its possibilities and constraints—must be understood in the context of their prior work history and their anticipated future goals, including what retirees expect and need, how long their health will permit them to work, and the like. Many Americans do have resources for retire- ment, and they expect to enjoy the “second act” or “encore” phase of their lives because of good medical advice and attention to healthful aging practices (Hardy, 2011). The emphasis now put on retirement planning

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THE NEW REALITIES OF AGING 109 crisis for municipal and state governments, independent of the federal gov- ernment, which made retirement fund commitments far exceed what they could ever have realistically funded (Estes, 2011). Furthermore, the issue of whether countries with well-developed pension systems can sustain them- selves as their populations age has as yet to be fully appreciated (Lassila and Valkonen, 2008). As the elderly population continues to age, it will be important to learn how, and to what extent, governments in continental Europe and the United States are shifting the burden of old-age supports to individuals and their families. Understanding how Social Security and retirement policies and pro- grams, and changes in them, affect the ability and choices of older people to pass on wealth to the generations beneath them merits attention and further investigation. The Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) provide a unique opportunity to compare transfer behaviors across multiple gen- erations in different western societies. Analyses of detailed information on key predictors of intergenerational support by adult children and older parents—including demographic factors, health, personal income and as- sets, and government transfers—can begin to address this question. At the macroeconomic level, it is important to contextualize how the welfare state (e.g., food programs, social insurance, cash assistance, family allowance, tax credits, etc.) operates to influence the propensity to save for retirement deserves attention. Harmonizing these surveys would provide insights into the pressing political question of whether more generous old-age welfare states are associated with lower personal savings. Projecting a Legacy of Social Protection The undeniable facts of aging in the United States will impact the social contract between generations. A portrait of the workforce and retirement population will look much different than it did in the past and directly af- fects who will pay for the oncoming wave of Boomer retirees (Angel and Settersten, 2011). In 1945, there were 40 workers for every retired person receiving Social Security. However, as a result of increasing immigration from Latin America and Asia, the changing age structure, and the aging of Baby Boomers themselves, by 2030 each retiree will depend on the contri- butions of slightly more than two workers. The implications of the higher old-age dependency ratio are profound. Because of high fertility and immigration, racial/ethnic minority groups constitute an even larger share of the economically active population. While the working-age population is becoming increasingly minority, the older retired population is predominantly non-Hispanic and white. This situation is particularly pronounced in states like Texas, where, by 2040, more than

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110 NEW DIRECTIONS IN THE SOCIOLOGY OF AGING half of the labor force will be Hispanic. A failure to address the importance of race/ethnicity will bring strife and only heighten the potential of serious age-based conflicts in the decades ahead, given that racial/ethnic minority populations are also younger (Morgan, 2003). Projecting the unintended consequences of rationing and budgeting decisions is essential to making good social policy. Future generations will be taxed at higher rates to cover the cost of these programs at the same time that their own retirement income benefit levels will erode (Quadagno, Kail, and Shekha, 2011). A system in which minority workers are taxed largely to support nonminority seniors undermines its political legitimacy and survival. Population aging brings serious questions about the sustainability of Social Security that deserve closer scrutiny (Lee, 2011). While the magni- tude of the change in population size is inexact, population scientists must forecast how the solvency balance in the U.S. Social Security Trust Fund will be affected by the whole demographic trajectory, not just the old-age dependency ratio in a particular year (Lee and Mason, 2011a). The ex- tent to which the future generation of workers will receive a fair rate of return on their lifetime contributions to the Social Security system must be examined. How will an increasingly diverse workforce put many aging Americans at risk? Under what conditions will there be public support for Social Security reform? The negative ramifications of the current recession on the lives of older Americans are not yet understood. These years have clearly jeopardized the well-being of many older adults, especially those in the middle class who, despite having Social Security and retirement savings, may not have enough to get by. Researchers must also investigate and understand how the old-age wel- fare state affects the generational dynamics in different national contexts, especially with respect to what constitutes a minimum level of human secu- rity and what responsibilities should be shouldered by those who receive it (Lee and Mason, 2011b). In a period of economic retrenchment—in which attacks on welfare programs are increasing, and in which the need to scale back (or to prevent the expansion of) income and health-care entitlements are unavoidable—young workers, among whom racial minorities are over- represented, face particular risks (Palier, 2010). The aging of Baby Boomer cohorts will also increase competition for funding among various recipient groups and the potential for conflict across cohorts. Because of limited government funding, the needs of impoverished women and children com- pete with those of the disabled and the elderly (Quadagno et al., 2011). Historically, federal expenditures for older people have been higher than for the young and, as a result, private investments in children are quite sig- nificant. One recent estimate is that family transfers account for more than

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THE NEW REALITIES OF AGING 111 half (57 percent) of total expenditures on children (Issacs, 2009; Mason et al., 2006). Although children constitute the majority of Medicaid enrollees, the majority of Medicaid funding is spent on care for the disabled and the elderly. Almost half of federal spending on long-term care comes from Medicaid (O’Brien, 2005). As the older population grows in size and aver- age age, the need for home- and community-based long-term services, as well as nursing care, will increase, and a large share of these cohorts will spend-down to Medicaid eligibility (Wolf and Amirkhanyan, 2010). State and local governments will need to address the mix of services for the young and the old, how they are managed and delivered, and perhaps most impor- tantly, the extent to which elder care demands may “crowd out” funding support for children owing to political and fiscal pressures. As a result of recent heath-care reform, the ACA has changed the sys- tem of health-care financing, but it is unclear how it will directly affect the cost of care for millions of Americans. As national health-care expenditures grow toward 20 percent of gross domestic product, efforts to control costs seem inevitable (Congressional Budget Office, 2012). Medicare enrollment growth is anticipated to be the major force driving public health-care spending in the future, and expenditures will be fueled largely by the new prescription drug benefit and the rapid growth of Baby Boomer cohorts as they move into and through retirement (Starr, 2011). Any changes in the new law will disproportionately affect the poor and low-income families, who are also more likely to belong to racial/ethnic minority groups. If Med- icaid continues to pay less than other forms of insurance, providers may not participate unless they are forced to do so. Reducing the costs of Medicare Advantage plans could create additional disparities among low-income elderly (Berenson and Holahan, 2010). A huge issue is how much insurers should be able to vary premium rates depending on age (Starr, 2011). Finally, because the new realities of population aging may play out differently in various cultural, economic, and policy contexts, comparative policy perspectives deserve special consideration (Kinsella and He, 2009). Arguably, one of the changing realities of global aging is that countries can no longer treat aging as a “local” (national) problem, but must recognize the increasing interdependence among nations. While any given country may choose to address economic and social challenges with a particular blend of policies, how those policies play out depends, at least in part, on how other countries configure their approaches. In the end, this may encourage more uniformity across countries or reinforce the existing divi- sions between high- and low-income countries. One of the most poignant examples is the Mexico-U.S. contrast. These societies are contending with multiple demands for public use of scarce resources, and they have over- lapping, interdependent populations and family networks that transcend

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112 NEW DIRECTIONS IN THE SOCIOLOGY OF AGING their border. A serious global aging agenda will demand that the economic and social welfare institutions of countries interact, and that the roles of women, ethnic minorities, and new immigrants be redefined, to better en- sure the social protection of vulnerable populations. FINAL THOUGHTS: WHY SOCIOLOGY IS CRUCIAL TO THE STUDY OF HUMAN AGING We have addressed some of the new realities of aging as they are shaped by contemporary social and economic contexts. We summarized some of the most pressing causes and consequences of change and identified some of the most pressing issues that must be addressed in future scholarship and social policy. Given the emphases of the volume, we close by identify- ing some of the potential theoretical and practical contributions that make sociology central to the science of human aging. As this chapter and our Handbook of Sociology of Aging (Settersten and Angel, 2011) have illustrated, sociology is particularly important in revealing important social structural factors associated with individual and population aging. Aging is a phenomenon that is heavily conditioned by social institutions, historical events, policies, the economy, cohort momen- tum, social interaction, and intergenerational dynamics. Social change is central to the sociologist’s lens to deal with the inevitable fact that social institutions and practices do not remain static, which forces us to challenge taken-for-granted assumptions that are based on outdated theoretical mod- els. An understanding of macro processes, too often ignored in the study of aging, must be incorporated in new models of individual and population well-being in later life. A strong focus on the individual factors associated with aging carries the risk of losing sight of how social structures both af- fect and are affected by aging. As sociologists we have an obligation to keep social forces and factors front and center in our inquiry. While calling for greater attention to structural and macro forces, we reiterate the importance of individual biography and the influence of past life history on aging at the individual level. Individual life course studies have yielded many new insights into the process of aging. Among these is the recognition that aging is a lifelong process and old age cannot be understood without accounting for the many decades of life that came before. Aging is a process that is intimately intertwined with other people, institutions, and structures. It is ironic, then, that researchers often analyze aging as if it is somehow a purely individual experience. Individuals may be asked to report on the people close to them, or inventories may be taken of life events and transitions that necessarily involve other people (e.g., mar- riages, births, deaths). But seldom do we study the friction of human lives in action, as intimates attempt to mesh their lives together and as decisions

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THE NEW REALITIES OF AGING 113 and goals are co-constructed through iterative and often difficult processes of negotiation. Most, if not all, of life’s most important markers are built on those social interactions. In contemplating the significance of linked lives, it is important to probe how the quantity and quality of social ties change as individuals move through different periods of life, as they enter or exit from social settings, and how they are affected by social policies. At a micro level, the linked or interdependent nature of lives creates unexpected changes and circumstances. Interdependence may constrain or foreclose opportunities, or drain individuals of important resources—just as they may open oppor- tunities or provide important resources. Linked lives must also be under- stood at a higher level of analysis—across generations in a society, or across nations in the world. Sociological research on aging routinely demonstrates the high degree of variability in the social order and lives of older people, consciousness about which has also been promoted by popular theories of cumulative advantage and disadvantage. Despite this work, the field is in much need of a comprehensive treatment of variability and investigations of its social sources and social consequences. New and existing institutional contexts will influence the ways in which economic, political, and social organizations address the problems and opportunities associated with aging and the character of variability. The great focus on variability also causes us to lose sight of shared experiences of aging that are equally important to understand. The need to keep the social in focus is heightened by reductionist tendencies in science and the contemporary focus on genomes and genet- ics (Angel and Settersten, 2011; Settersten, 2009). When traveling further out into social spaces and attempting to take them into account, empirical work becomes more difficult. The tendency in scientific disciplines such as psychology, economics, and biology is to dismiss external social forces as far too unwieldy to measure or as being already represented in lower-order measures. As sociologists, this means that we must make them discern- able, which will also require advances in our measurement and methods (Hauser and Weir, 2010). It is our responsibility to lead the way and trace these connections across levels of analysis (see also Shanahan, this volume). The family is an especially important context on which to focus. As the National Institute on Aging (2011, p. 7) itself has recently noted, “research examining how the family serves as a context for the expression of genetic influences on health and psychological wellbeing of relevance to aging is necessary for a more complete picture of aging processes.” A sociological perspective fills in the “black box of the actor” (Mayer, 2003) as well as the “black box of structure” (Settersten, 2009). That is, sociology can help unearth individuals’ awareness of the social constraints and incentives that affect their actions, but importantly, it demands more

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114 NEW DIRECTIONS IN THE SOCIOLOGY OF AGING precise accounts of social settings beyond the family and interpersonal relationships that shape and set parameters on human aging (see also Diewald and Mayer, 2009). Models of individual cognitive, volitional, or emotional states will have limited explanatory power if they do not suf- ficiently account for how larger social settings regulate aging-related tasks and opportunities. Aging is one of the most intricate scientific puzzles, posing many sig- nificant challenges for individuals, families, and societies. Sociological re- search is crucial to unlocking that puzzle and understanding the properties of social institutions, social organization, and social interaction in an aging world. As sociologists, we must remember that there are people behind the numbers, and we have an obligation to understand them both as whole people and in relation to the multiple social contexts in which they live. In the face of increasingly specialized and fine-grained empirical work, we should place more value on the tasks of integration, synthesis, reflection, and theoretical development. These points speak to the need to develop a science of greater meaning, for the people and phenomena we study are rich and complex. References Angel, J.L. (2007). The effects of immigration on the health of older people. In K.W. Schaie and P. Uhlenberg (Eds.), Social Structures: Impact of Demographic Changes on the Well- being of Older Persons (pp. 123-157). New York: Springer. Angel, J.L. (2008). Inheritance in Contemporary America: The Social Dimensions of Giving Across Generations. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Angel, J.L., and Angel, R.J. (2006). Minority group status and healthful aging: Social structure still matters. American Journal of Public Health, 96, 1,152-1,159. Angel, J.L., and Settersten, R.A., Jr. (2011). Sociology of aging in the decade ahead. In R.A. Settersten, Jr., and J.L. Angel (Eds.), Handbook of Sociology of Aging (pp. 661-672). New York: Springer. Angel, J.L., Angel, R.J., Aranda, M.P., and Miles, T.P. (2004). Can the family still cope? Social support and health as determinants of nursing home use in the older Mexican-origin population. Journal of Aging and Health, 16, 338-354. Angel, J.L., Montez, J.K., and Angel, R.J. (2011). A window of vulnerability: Health insur- ance coverage among women 55 to 64 years of age. Women’s Health Issues, 21(1), 6-11. Angel, J.L., Torres-Gil, F., and Markides, K. (Eds.). (2012). Aging, Health and Longevity in the Mexican-Origin Population. New York: Springer. Angel, R.J. (2012). Agency versus structure: Genetics, group membership, and a new twist on an old debate. Social Science and Medicine, 73, 632-635. Baca Zinn, M., Eitzen, D.S., and Wells, B. (2010). Diversity in Families (vol. 9). New York: Pearson. Barker, K., and Christensen, K. (1998). Contingent Work: American Employment Relations in Transition. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press. Berenson, R., and Holahan, J. (2010). How Will the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Affect Seniors? Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

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