A Senior Moment
A recent study by the “Stanford Center on Longevity” entitled “New Realities of an Older America” spotlights trends, challenges and implications of population aging. Our aging population is an “unprecedented demographic development” according to Laura L. Carstensen PhD, director of the center.
Most of the time I don’t pay attention to stats and demographics. I find them too much of a putty nose that people bend and twist for their own ideological or organizational purposes and ambitions. As someone once said there are 3 kinds of untruth: “lies, d*mned lies, and statistics.” However, me thinks there’s something here worth paying attention to:
- The number of older people (age 65 and over) will double over the next 30 years, from 40 million to 80 million, and the percentage of older people in the population will increase from 13% to 20%.
- By 2032, there will be more people 65 or older than children under 15.
- By the time the youngest baby boomers turn 65 in 2029, 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older. The percentage of 85-year-olds will grow even faster.
- If retirement is not delayed there will be fewer and fewer potential workers per retiree. Longer working lives, in contrast, would make use of the most educated older population in the history of the country.
- Without policy and behavioral changes, the fiscal burden on individual workers and taxpayers will skyrocket.
- Unless people work longer, the personal financial burden also will increase as people reach older ages.
- Population aging will affect younger Americans as well. Their economic prospects and future tax burdens depend on how effectively today’s policy makers prepare.
- Suburbs, designed for traditional nuclear families, increasingly will be home to singles and older couples.
- Diversity will increase among older people, with minorities accounting for 60% of the growth among those 65 or older.
These demographics are in marked contrast to other parts of the globe such as S. America and Africa. Unfortunately, our society (and the church for the most part) is obsessed with the pursuit of the consumer definition of youthfulness (even while usually ignoring real kids) and is unprepared for the changes coming, if there’s any accuracy to the research.
I don’t know how many times I have been discussing ministry and future goals with church folk who have articulated their #1 goal the desire is to “get more young families” involved even while ignoring the unreached people of all generations around them. This pursuit of “getting more young families” is usually aimed at reviving the failing (or failed) programs and activities of middle-class yesteryear. As Gomer Pyle used to say “Surprise! Surprise!” when the “youngsters” don’t sign up but stay away in droves! No one wants to inherit the Titanic!
Call me an idealist but I still believe the gospel is for all ages, across all the demographical stratas, walls and divides we create and find it sad that the U.S. church has accepted the cultural status quo that segregates ages and generations for pragmatic or marketing reasons. As such many local congregations whether the pews are filled exclusively with blue hair or the folding chairs with soul patches, are an example of the problem rather than the incarnation of the multi-gifted body of Christ. To me it denies the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit for the old men as well as the youngsters, the generational promise “for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). I think there is still great opportunity ahead for learning to serve, to show hospitality for all generations – driven not by demographics but by the very nature of the good news.