Dissolving the Boundaries of Age
We have reached a significant crossroads, the closing
of one millennium and the beginning of another. This is a momentous occasion
by all accounts. Yet what is remarkable is what awaits the world in this
new era as it undergoes a demographic revolution. The world is changing
as it ages, and just as older persons have been agents of that change,
they must also be its beneficiaries.
At the same time, we must rethink rigid distinctions that define age and
give it boundaries. Everyone, individually and collectively, is joined
in this single human venture, and everyone will respond, in their own
way, to the opportunities as well as the challenges. Ageing is not a separate
issue from social integration, gender advancement, economic stability
or issues of poverty. It has developed a connection with many global agendas
and will play, increasingly, a prominent role in the way society interacts
with economic and social welfare institutions, family and community life
and the roles of women.
The complex infrastructure of society as well as the unique life course
of individuals can be dramatically altered by a progressive upward shift
in the global population. The total effect cannot be easily absorbed.
The present imperative is that societies must respond to the extraordinary
potential and range of variability in individual ageing, and seize the
opportunity to rethink our notion of limits and recognize the far-reaching
benefits societies stand to gain from the continuing contributions of
their older citizens.
We have all heard of the remarkable demographic change that is under way.
But our task is not to dwell on what we already know. It is rather to
equip ourselves and future generations with the tools to meet its challenge
and imagine what can be. Let us see this new century as an opportunity
to reinforce belief in the possibilities of non-violence and peaceful
cooperation in order to promote progress for all ages in all areas.
We are all constituents of an ageing society, rural and city dwellers,
public and private sector identities, families and individuals, old and
young alike. It is crucial that societies adjust to this human paradigm
as record numbers of people live into very old age, if we are to move
towards a society for all ages.
[Let us]…continue the dialogue and build on partnerships that can bring
us closer to a society that weaves all ages into the larger human community
in which we thrive.
(Adapted from the Foreword to the World Ageing Situation 2000, by Nitin
(The following excerpt is adapted from the Introductory Chapter to the
World Ageing Situation 2000)
A Call for Revolutionary Thinking
We live in an ageing world. While this has been recognized for some
time in developed countries, it is only recently that this phenomenon
has been fully acknowledged. Global communication is "shrinking" the world,
and global ageing is "maturing" it. The increasing presence of older persons
in the world is making people of all ages more aware that we live in a
diverse and multigenerational society. It is no longer possible to ignore
ageing, regardless of whether one views it positively or negatively.
Demographers note that if current trends in ageing continue as predicted,
a demographic revolution, wherein the proportions of the young and the
old will undergo a historic crossover, will be felt in just three generations.
This portrait of change in the world's population parallels the magnitude
of the industrial revolution - traditionally considered the most significant
social and economic breakthrough in the history of humankind since the
Neolithic period. It marked the beginning of a sustained movement towards
modern economic growth in much the same way that globalization is today
marking an unprecedented and sustained movement toward a "global culture".
The demographic revolution, it is envisaged, will be at least as powerful.
While the future effects are not known, a likely scenario is one where
both the challenges as well as the opportunities will emerge from a vessel
into which exploration and research, dialogue and debate are poured. Challenges
arise as social and economic structures try to adjust to the simultaneous
phenomenon of diminishing young cohorts with rising older ones, and opportunities
present themselves in the sheer number of older individuals and the vast
resources societies stand to gain from their contribution.
This ageing of the population permeates all social, economic and cultural
spheres. Revolutionary change calls for new, revolutionary thinking, which
can position policy formulation and implementation on sounder footing.
In our ageing world, new thinking requires that we view ageing as a lifelong
and society-wide phenomenon, not a phenomenon exclusively pertaining to
Ageing is Lifelong
Individuals begin their ageing process at the moment of birth, and go
through the life course accumulating a range of experiences that may positively
or negatively affect their capabilities and wellbeing in later years.
Age-adjusted policies and programmes that encourage workplace flexibility,
lifelong learning and healthy lifestyles, especially during transitional
periods, e.g., youth to midlife, midlife to later years, can influence
choices with accumulative effects. A clear priority target for old age
policies are the younger generations, who may have to reinvent themselves
again and again in fast-changing societies; they will need to cultivate
healthy lifestyles, flexibility and foresight, continually upgrade work
skills and maintain social networks.
Environments for growth, learning and moving toward creative fulfilment
should be within the reach of all. What we are learning today about the
extraordinary range of abilities and interests of older persons can help
us in the task of creating such environments and remove obstacles for
Ageing is Society-Wide
Ageing occupies connecting chambers within the development landscape,
interacting with global patterns in labour and capital markets, governmental
pensions, services, and traditional support systems, all which are further
shaped by technological change and cultural transformations.
The course of population ageing is now worldwide and flows freely into
social and economic support systems, which are directly influenced by
the changing age structure. Support systems come in numerous forms that
range from the formal to the informal; some are based upon local community
membership and solidarity, some are cooperative ventures, some private,
company-based schemes and some are provided by the state and through welfare
programmes. The sustainability of these systems to manage risk or cushion
support in both the developed and developing world is undergoing tremendous
change. The ageing of populations is affecting the older-person support
ratio (the number of persons aged 15-64 years per older persons aged 65
years or older), which is falling in both more and less developed regions,
having important implications for social and economic structures.
If the ageing of populations is revolutionizing our social and economic
infrastructure, globalization and technological advancement are revolutionizing
our "tool" system - that is, management and workplace skills, creative
synthesis, political and social development. One element of this system
is information technology, which, in the last five years alone, has transformed
the speed and manner in which access to information is rendered and received.
Older individuals are increasingly tapping into this culture in varying
degrees, often in multigenerational settings, meeting the educational
demands to stay informed of new technologies and systems. The majority
of older persons, however, mostly in developing countries, do not have
access. When whole communities are sidelined in this information tidal
wave, existing gaps and imbalances become all the more apparent.
While a course seems charted for the globalization of information and
technology, this is not the case regarding how the world will respond
to gaps in the communications infrastructure, nor in its most durable
underpinning: human relationships. As global ageing converges with technology
and globalization, a new culture has emerged, with its own production
and consumption patterns and its own facilities and services. But a new
'culture' can also contribute to and activate policy dialogue, research
and training, and the building of the crucial elements of a global ageing
Meanings and Images in an Ageing Society
Images of ageing are rooted in culture and cut right to the marrow of
the society in which we live. However, the understanding of one's language
and culture can very often contrast with the meanings and images given
it by others. This paradox also mimics ageing in advanced societies, where,
with the accumulation of years and experience, roles diminish, and images
play a part.
Mass media, the machine of image-making, is also a link in the globalization
chain, and can have profound effects on the developing world, and particularly
on the older women who live there. For its part, the flow and interchange
of ideas and information through new technologies is as much an extraordinary
achievement as it is an ordinary fact of life. The positive impact that
is gained from other ideas, learning about other populations, areas of
expertise, and alternative ways of life is boundless. But knowledge and
images are often mutual passengers in the information voyage and the image
landscape conveyed by the western media weighs heavily on the side of
glorifying youth, while either omitting older persons or depicting them
in stereotypes. This has a particular impact on the lives of older women,
as they tend to suffer greater political, social, and economic exclusion
than do older men.
As society ages however, it also changes in ways that relate to age. Perceptions
of the transitions that mark the boundaries of age are being altered as
family, kinship and community structures change. In many parts of the
world it is not uncommon today to be part of a four-generation family,
where the chronological rules for assuming the roles of grandparents or
grandchildren are increasingly blurred. At the same time, more individuals
are growing older outside of traditional family networks and are simulating
family life through communities or primary groups. The rhythm of the life
cycle continues to develop through these different dynamics and, consequently,
is not as tightly bound by chronological age or stages as it once may
The same can be said for images that surround the idea of change. While
change often arouses anxiety, challenges that stem from new orders of
complexity should be met with inquiry rather than reproach. Situations
or choices that once seemed incompatible, work or retirement, strength
or vulnerability, can be approached and accommodated within the same creative
mix that occupies the vastness and diversity of life in the human community.
The new architecture of ageing requires policies that remove obstacles
and facilitate contributions. It also requires seminal thinking and images
that reflect reality and potential, not stereotypes and myths. So relative
are the experiences of ageing in different parts of the world, and so
complex and multiple their roles, that the world can no longer accept
images of ageing as a panorama of near homogeneity.
Old age policies were designed, for most of the 20th century, with a youthful
society in mind. From this point onward, policies for older persons, younger
persons and those in between, must be designed with an ageing society
in mind, society where soon, every third individual will be over the age
of 60. International, national and local communities must begin now to
adjust and design their infrastructures, policies, plans and resources.
Policy interventions that include social and human, as well as economic
investments, can prevent unnecessary dependencies from arising whether
in late life for individuals or downstream in ageing societies. When judicious
investments are made in advance, experts suggest that ageing can be changed
from a drain on resources to build-up of humane social, economic and environmental
capital. This requires investing in the phases of life, fostering enabling
societies, and creating flexible but vibrant collaborations in the process,
through which the future building of a society for all ages can take hold
in the present.
Finally, recognition of the uniqueness that unfolds throughout one's life
is core to igniting society's embrace of the contributions of its older
citizens. The "package" of knowledge, wisdom and experience that so often
comes with age is part of an inner awareness that cannot be traded, sold
or stolen. It should, however, be activated, amplified and utilized in
all the crossroads, fields and storefronts of society, and in the windows
of our creative imaginations.
Please also take a
look at the:
Club of Amsterdam Forum
and the Club of Amsterdam
Event about 'Senior
Citizens & future Technology'