Well, OK, it’s a stretch to say that old people rule, “elders” don’t get nearly as much respect as they did in previous generations, and there may be some good reasons for that….
Fact is, though, there are lots of old people, a whole lot more than there were in the young United States after the Revolutionary War.
By the way, I’m using the words “old people” advisedly—the United Nations officially says that around the world, age 65 is commonly a threshold point to distinguish “young” people from “old” people. When you hit 65, accept the senior discount when you’re buying your train and theater tickets, feel good about it, get used to it….
In 1790 there weren’t very many 65+ folks around, only about 2% of the population lived long enough to achieve that exalted status. Average life expectancy at birth was about 35 years.
Now there are 7 times more old folks than in 1790. Today, about 14% of the U.S. population is 65 or older. Imagine that 85% of these old folks could disappear tomorrow—that’s what 1790 looked like.(1)
Part of the explanation is that in 1950, life expectancy at birth was about 68 years. Today, it’s close to 80 years.
(1) Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2014), 18.
Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015