This morning, while listening to the Who play “My Generation,” it brought me back to when I was growing up, when 45 seemed pretty old and 65 seemed absolutely ancient. This is not just the view of a kid looking up at the world around him; the abilities and aspirations of people that age back then were manifestly different from those of people of that age today. Excepting Covid and the opioid crisis, people are living longer healthier. This is a trend that seems to be accelerating and, if you believe the people on the scientific board at the Cleveland Clinic, there is an 80% chance we are about to live significantly longer. It seems to me that one of the consequences of this extended health span, or belief in an extended health span, is that all human developmental stages are being extended like a slinky being pulled wide.
An oft-heard comment from people our age concerning younger people is that they just need to grow up, meaning: need to grow up like we grew up. But now is not then, and they are not us. The economics are vastly different, and the expectation of future life is different. If you were a young person in 1965, you had a very different view of your future self than someone of similar age in 2023. It only makes sense that if one is expecting a longer, healthier life, that one’s developmental phases can become elongated. If we look back to the American Revolutionary War, the Marquis de Lafayette was 19 when he was commissioned as a Major General. People regularly married back then in their early to mid-teens, while life expectancies were half what they are now.
The point is that there is a trend that seems to correlate life expectancy with developmental phases, and that trend is elongating. We focus a lot here on the middle and longer parts of the age column, but the effects are also felt by younger people. To say it is great to be a vital, fully engaged mid-sixty-year-old and to, at the same time, throw shade on young people, is to misunderstand the effect of increased longevity on everyone’s worldview. The one causes the other. These are the same reasons many people our age can enjoy current pop culture in a way that our parents could not — we feel younger at our current age than most of our parents did. AGEIST is very interested in science and medical advancements partially because of our own interest in delayed mortality, but also because of the enormous effects these will have on the social, political and economic systems in the future. So when we see people in their 20s living in ways that we did not at that age, we need to understand that is just one of the many changes happening because of increased health spans. It’s not just affecting us; it is affecting everyone.
We live in tremendously exciting times which are also extremely dynamic, a big part of which is that elongating age slinky. Curious empathy is a good road map to navigating differences of all kinds.
Onward and upward,