Fine Until 69: The New Generational Divide:

No-one should ever sit in the Oval Office if they are over 70 years old”. That was the view expressed by the former US President Dwight Eisenhower, who entered the White House on January 20th 1953 at the age of 62 and served eight years in the role. Despite this, as the New Yorker correspondent Isaac Chotiner pointed out on March 8th, both the current occupant and the person who hopes to replace him are septuagenarians. Donald Trump was 70 years and 220 days when he was inaugurated in 2017 and Joe Biden will be 78 on November 20th – older than Ronald Reagan was when he left the job.

There’s no shortage, of course, of other global leaders who are either in or approaching this age group. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, fór example, has been President of Uganda since 1986 and will be 76 on 15th September and Muhyiddin Yassin, who became Prime Minister of Malaysia on March 2nd, is 72. Neither the Chinese President Xi Jinping (67) nor his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin (68) have displayed any inclination for stepping down when they move into their next decade.

The Democratic Party’s Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, however, is not in a strong position to criticise this trend: She’s 80 – older than all of them – and has been accused herself, by the NBC reporter Luke Russert, of refusing to move out of the way for a younger politician. It’s a sentiment, the USA Today contributor Matt Sedensky has observed, that is “repeated in countless workplaces, where a younger person is awaiting a senior employee’s departure for their chance to ascend” – and one that seems certain, in the opinion of the Los Angeles journalist, Laura Newberry, on May 1st, to gain extra resonance in the wake of a pandemic which has left millions of people, in the US, the UK and around the world without employment and a secure source of income.

It’s now,  declares Newberry, “Open season for discrimination against older adults. Ageism has been amplified”, and cites a survey conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency during the George W. Bush administration which concluded that “people over 70 are worth just 67% of the lives of younger people”.

By contrast, a study commissioned by the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), alluded to by Chotiner, has indicated that companies have come to value older workers’ skill and acquired knowledge and they are seen as being “less resistant to change, less likely to leave the organisation, less likely to take time off, are innovative and able to keep up with technology”.

On the 15th April, the morning programme of RTE, Ireland’s National TV & Radio Broadcaster, highlighted what it described as the “now infamous” article written in March by Jeremy Warner, assistant editor of the Daily Telegraph. This apparently suggested that “from an entirely disinterested economic perspective, Covid-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents” – followed by the British social pundit Toby Young, in the online Australian magazine “Quillette”, allegedly downplaying the demise of potentially thousands of people as “acceptable collateral damage”.

The British Society of Gerontology (BSG), the presenters reported, subsequently released a statement calling on the UK Government “to reject the formulation and implementation of policy based on the simple application of chronological age. Not all people over the age of 70 are vulnerable, nor all those under 70 resilient”. The BSG acknowledged that helping and protecting those at risk in society is the right thing to do, but not to indiscriminately classify the over-70’s as a homogeneous group.

The British American artist, printmaker and author, Natalie d’Arbeloff (90) clearly agrees: In the Guardian’s G2 section on 3rd January, she queried as to “why should people who have accumulated a large quantity of years be perceived as having uniform characteristics. Individuality doesn’t drop off automatically, like old skin,when we reach a certain number”.

Likewise, the English actress Joan Collins (87), who in the 16th May edition of the Spectator magazine, expressed her indignation at “this patronising insult of isolation, well-intentioned as it may be” and insisted that neither her nor her friends would allow themselves to be “chucked onto the scrap heap of life” because of their age.

Nonetheless that’s exactly where, according to some media commentators, the over-70’s – and even more so the over-80’s – should be consigned. Again in the Guardian, on the 27th April 2019, the economics journalist Phillip Inman declared that “old people are an increasing burden, but (he asked) must our young be the ones to shoulder it?”

This stance has been criticised by Dr George W. Leeson, the Director of Oxford University’s Institute of Population Ageing, as tantamount to “demonizing the elderly”, though Inman has since then slightly modified his attitude. In his column for the Observer on 22nd December, he contended that “the old-fashioned left-wing view of a pensioner being someone who huddles over a two-bar electric fire and worries about having enough £1 coins to put in the meter applies now to  only a tiny minority of older people”.

A study conducted by “Independent Age” suggests otherwise, revealing that 36% of the 11.4 million over-65’s in the UK don’t heat their home adequately in the winter months because of concerns about their fuel bills and in effect have to choose between eating and heating. Inman’s comments, of course, were compiled before the onset of the pandemic and the emergence of what the Wired UK contributor, Sabrina Weiss, denounced on 7th May as “The real coronavirus scandal: The failing, debt-ridden care homes which were already teetering on the edge of collapse and are now at the front line of the crisis”.

The most recent statistics issued by AgeDiscrimination.info show there are 8,769,122 over-70’s in the UK, 17.52% of whom live in Wales, 15.40% in Scotland, 15.13% in England and 13.17% in Northern Ireland. As Jonathan de Mello, Head of Retail Consultancy at Harper Dennis Hobbs has emphasised on “realthinktank.co.uk”, this generation – which will constitute 27% of the total adult population in the UK by 2030 – has greater levels of disposable finances than the millennials and hence represents “the most considerable untapped opportunity for retailers”.

The “Grey Pound” could thus, on this assessment, prove to be a significant factor for all those businesses now hoping to resume trading, attract customers and survive in the aftermath of the lock-down.

Filed under: Healthcare, Politics | Posted on May 29th, 2020 by Colin D Gordon

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