As we mentioned earlier, little attention is being paid to the potential upside of the aging of society, or the “longevity dividend.” Previously unimagined numbers of older people are fully capable of participating productively in society, either through paid work or in some other form of civic engagement. Older people have much to offer, including their accrued knowledge, stability, their heightened capacity for synthetic problem solving, their increased ability to manage conflicts, and their ability to take the perspectives of other age groups into account. Societies should encourage strategies that use all the talent in the population, and that employ social norms based on ability rather than chronological age. We would thus enable the transition from an emphasis on training and education only during the early life years, to the recognition that investments of that kind can pay off across the entire life span.
Thus far, policy-makers have been preoccupied with the potential negative impacts of population aging and rising life expectancies on health and pension entitlements. Too often, the discourse neglects consideration of other critically important issues, such as the adequacy of the future work force and its economic productivity; intergenerational cohesion when different age groups are competing for the same limited resources; the future breadth of the currently widening gap between the haves and have-nots; racial tensions; and changes in the structure and function of the family and implications for the capacity for families to serve the traditional role of safety net for older persons. Even more important than these problems, serious as they are, is that there has been almost no acknowledgment of the potentially positive aspects of an aging society, an issue referred to by Olshansky and colleagues (2007) as “the longevity dividend.”
The Network considered many criteria of “success” at the societal level: productivity and engagement, both in the labor force and through volunteering; cohesion, including the degree of synergy or tension between generations and socioeconomic strata; balance in dealing with the risks and benefits of demographic change; resilience, or the capacity to respond effectively to stress; and sustainability, the capacity to maintain high function over time (Rowe et al., 2010). Successful aging at the societal level will obviously facilitate successful aging at the level of the individual, and, most likely, vice versa.
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