second half of life musings on my 58th birthday

18 months ago I posted a blog with links to a range of second half of life resources in america – many of them radical groups – and lamented the lack of resources and action here in the UK

I felt a little lonely in this work  🙂  but valiantly carried on.

18 months later I doubt there’s anyone who doesn’t have some sense – if not the stats – of our the changing demographics of our situation: that last year (in the UK), for the first time, there are more people over 40 than under it and that this trend will continue, with older people out-numbering younger people.  In Britain ten million people are currently over 65, a sixth of the population.

You can go in two directions with this situation: into the fear and aversion of ageing and an amplification of  ageism and contempt towards the elderly, as indeed Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, warned of at the end of 2012.  Or into all the possibilities that such uncharted waters inevitably bring if we can but be open to that.

Older people in the UK contribute an estimated £61bn to the economy through employment, volunteering and caring, but many feel unrecognised.  92% of a recent survey by the Guardian don’t feel older people’s skills, knowledge and experience are valued and harnessed by society.  And an increasing number of research and studies are exploding the many myths about older people:

that countless studies have shown that as people grow older they generally get happier (in fact the most unhappy people are those in mid-life 45-49) and that life satisfaction is especially high for people between 65-79 (Office for National Statistics);

that only 20% of people over 85 need professional support or care to live independently (Newcastle University);

and that 84% of people over 80 do not develop dementia (Alzheimers Society),

to mention but a few.

It’s saddened me to see the way the young and the old have been played off against each other in the run up to the General Election in the UK.   It’s saddened me to see the young encouraged to resent older people for monopolising increasingly scarce resources when the truth is that inequality is the real issue and that that exists in all age groups.

One thing seems sure though: that – at last –  the topic of ageing is no longer being avoided or ignored.  There has been a notable increase of coverage in the media, more books published, websites, services and a call for an older people’s minister with a place in the cabinet.

I hope that happens and that it brings in radical positive change.  The popular image of political commitment among older people is of a shift to the right.  I question that.  I’m with Maggie Kuhn, founder in 1970 New York city of the gray panthers who fought truth decay, and with Trevor Huddleston, notable anti-apartheid and anti-racist campaigner, who said in his late 70’s, “I’ve become more revolutionary every year I’ve lived”.

There’s never been a better time to age and join the age-acceptance movement.  And there’s never been a better time to challenge ageism and the narrative of nothing but decline.  Encourage whatever brings people of all ages together and reminds us of our shared humanity – and vulnernability.