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Aging By The Numbers

Something to think about:

Paul Westhead was 68 years old when he coached the Phoenix Mercury to a WNBA championship.
Marynell Meadors coached the Atlanta Dream while she was 64 to 69 years old (including playoff appearances).
Bernie Sanders runs for president of the United States at 74.
Donald Trump and Hilly Clinton run for president at 69.
Joan Rivers won The Apprentice at 75.

Nobody would hire people of their ages for a corporate management or academic professorial job.

But it’s important to realize that in some ways these people are outliers. They benefit from a combination of genes and opportunities – seeds sown before they reached their sixties.

When looking at age, it’s about the variance, not the mean.

Geriatric Psychiatrist in WSJ Says Adventure Leads To Depression

It’s Time To Think The Bucket List After Retirement by Marc E. Agronin

This article reinforces stereotypes of seniors as soft, cuddly nurturers. Many people over 60 are childless. Many prefer to work for money rather than volunteer (especially for organizations that pay their executives handsomely, such as hospitals and nursing homes). Some just like to travel.

A geriatric psychiatrist should know better than to stereotype “older brains.” Some people take more risks as they get older; novelty-seeking is a personality trait. Having never been especially conscientious or maternal, I doubt that I’ll transform when I hit a magic number.

Here’s what he writes about his patient “Dora:”

“She and her husband spent several months and considerable treasure each year after retirement traveling to a bucket list of exotic locales, but found themselves feeling increasingly alienated from family and friends who did not share in their adventures. Their children complained that they seemed more interested in spending time with itinerant acquaintances than with their grandchildren. Several friends became reticent to invite them on weekend outings, fearing that any such plans paled in comparison with their many adventures.”

Give me a break! Are the children looking for free babysitters? Do they want doting grandparents who will hover over their kids and interfere with their parenting? And she didn’t seem “depressed,” just perhaps a  little lonely.

“Dora” should tell her children to find their own babysitters and playmates; when kids become teens, they won’t be eager to go on trips with grandparents. She speculates that her social rejections are related to her travels. Maybe she’s a nuisance to be around,  her friends just don’t like older people, or she needs new friends.

I’d like to see how those studies measure “well-being.” I suspect the variance is huge.


AARP Food Truck Stunt Shows How AARP Is Clueless

So AARP decides to take on age stereotypes. They set up a food truck with a big sign, “No One Under 40.”

Their takeaway is, “See how silly ageism looks out in the open?”

But the truth is, the response of people in the video sends the opposite message.

Not one person under 40 questioned the ban on over-40 people. Not one said, “This is illegal.” People who were turned away just accepted their fate.

One woman even let her mother be turned away.

Just imagine the sign had said, “White people only.” Or, “We don’t serve gay people.”


Age discrimination starts as early as …35?!

This article from PBS News says it all: age discrimination starts as early as 35. Researchers sent around resumes, changing only the birth date of the applicant. Older applicants got fewer invitations.

When companies were asked why this was happening, the a”reasons given include worries that they’re not good at technology, that they don’t have computer skills. There’s worries that they’re not active, that they’re slow, that they’re not willing to embrace change. There’s worries that they’re just going to leave…” And these reasons just aren’t true.

And AARP’s recommendations, it turns out, aren’t helpful. Why are we not surprised?

According to this article, AARP told people to write, “I’m willing to embrace change.” People who followed this advice got fewer callbacks.

I’m not surprised. I once told a client to remove the phrase, “Maintain an active lifestyle” from his resume. You’re calling attention to age – and emphasizing that you define yourself by age.

So what can you do?

They suggest, “Volunteer and take classes.”

I’d beg to differ.

I’d say to position yourself away from entry level jobs; you’ll still get discrimination but not as much.

And go back to school to study entrepreneurship. Get the entrepreneurial mindset going earlier rather than later.

Reflections on the Coursera “Global Aging” course

The social aspects of aging are by far the most difficult, in my experience, and the least understood. Often we experience altercasting – the way we’re pushed into roles and respond to those involuntary roles through a social interaction.

The brief video on social aspects of aging underestimated the cruelty associated with aging, which can be experienced any time after 35 or 40. It is true that some cultures treat older people better than the US does. However, it’s not clear what roles are appropriate or why special roles should be reserved for people over 60.
I do many things that are not age-appropriate – in my late sixties, I wear shorts, work on the Internet, take classes, workout – and every so often someone will say something that reminds me I’m older than most of the group. I’ve also found that any quirk or unusual quality is attributed to aging, even though it’s something that hasn’t changed for years. Age is the strongest signifier of status – even stronger than gender, sexual preference or (usually) race.

Another social phenomena is the toleration of negative stereotypes of aging. I remember watching a TV morning show years ago, where an “older” women was being interviewed because she did skydiving. The anchor was smiling in a patronizing way, as if to say, “That is so cute.” Similarly we see thousands of Youtube videos showing older women dancing, which is supposed to be amusing. One movie reviewer (wish I’d kept the clipping) wrote that, “It is funny to see older people enjoying themselves.” Can you imagine saying that about black people or disabled people?

Vernon Jordan wrote a book about growing up black. In one episode he was sitting at a table reading a book in a home his mother was cleaning. The lady of the house exclaimed, “Why, Vernon can read!” Most of us would be horrified, yet we tolerate a similar view from social and public media. We see a video of an elderly woman dancing and say, “Why, this old lady can shake her butt!”

I have never liked children and have no interest in activities that would put me around children. I’m not getting mellower; I’ve always been direct and outspoken and I’m still that way. The difference is that many people (especially medical people) expect to deal with sweet, docile old people; it has been necessary to use some colorful language to get them to pay attention, especially when I’m there alone. I don’t necessarily want “respect.” I just want to be treated like an adult who’s paying the bills; I deserve respect as a customer, not for my age.

Moreover, while other cultures treat the elderly with respect, preliterate tribes would leave elders behind when they were too weak to go on the tribal journeys. Some would kill and eat the elders. If you asked, I think many people would rather experience those customs than be locked up home with extreme pain, no meaningful life and the high probability of abuse.