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age cohort effects

Image by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash.

Every so often I come across an article about the increasing percentage of the population over 65. As the population ages, the authors say, we need to make plans to accommodate the new reality.

The problem is, you can’t plan for the needs of “seniors” 20 years out by looking at the age group today. People who turn 65 in 2043 will be quite different from those who turn 65 in 2023…and definitely, those who turned 65 in 2003.

I’ll use women as an example to simplify.

A woman who turned 65 in 2003 would have been born (depending on the month) in 1938.

The famous Apple commercial “1984” would have aired when they were 46. Laptops wouldn’t become part of everyday life for awhile.

Title IX was passed in 1972. Most women born in 1938 wouldn’t have participated in high school and college sports. They didn’t grow up with fitness, jogging, and gym membersips.

Fast forward 20 years. A woman who turned 65 in 2023 would be born in 1958. She’d grow up with Apple computers and probably got a laptop soon after college.

A woman born in 1958 would be influenced by Title IX when she turned 14. By the time she was 18, she’d see women admitted to the US military academies for the first time. They’re her contemporaries.

I can’t remember where I read this: A coach of a women’s college basketball team gave the first-years some tough drills usually reserved for the professionals. These girls had been playing ball for years. “Too easy,” they said.

The woman who will turn 65 in 2043 was born in 1978 – 3 years short of being a millennial! She’s at home with computers. She might be writing code and building websites ever since high school. She saw women play pro basketball by the time she was 18. She takes for granted the opportunities for women to fly airplanes – even jet fighter planes.

In my book, When I Get Old I Plan To Be A Bitch, I go into detail about the way cohort effects influence the experience of growing older. Most of our stereotypes come from watching our grandmothers.

In the book, I remember watching older women coming home from a shopping trip on the city bus. They’d be nicely dressed with “heels and hose.” They’d cram their tiny butts into girdles.

I wondered, “Will I be like them?” After all, I’ve always hated dressing up.

Sure enough, as I grew older, I didn’t have time for a day of leisurely shopping. I wear jeans, tights, and shorts unless I absolutely have to wear a dress (the last time was a friend’s wedding over 10 years ago).

I couldn’t have imagined wearing shorts…but I never expected to become a fitness fanatic either. I was the girl who hid in the locker room during gym classes and hoped the teacher wouldn’t notice. I was the girl who wasn’t just chosen last for teams: I was encouraged to sit on the sidelines and take notes.

I get so frustrated when I read about organizations who are designing housing and programs for “seniors.” You can’t assume you’ll be dealing with the same needs.

Those who turn 65 in 2043 will expect Internet access at any age. They’ll be physically fit. They won’t say “Yes doctor” when they seek medical services.

And I’m absolutely betting they’ll be wearing shorts and t-shirts in summer, letting their bra straps show, and swearing like sailors.