Growing Older in America         

by | October 12, 2023

baseball player

I write this as a second generation fan of Terry (Tito) Francona and the Cleveland Guardians. Tito (pictured above) is the recently retired manager of the Cleveland baseball team. He and I are exactly the same age: 64. He was born just three months after me on April 22, 1959. I was born January 18, 1959. Tito officially retired from managing last week. I will retire from the University of Toledo at the end of this school year in May 2024.  

With his retirement, Tito ended a 23-year managerial career that began in Philadelphia, peaked with two World Series titles in Boston and concluded with 11 baseball seasons in Cleveland. My retirement will also end a 23-year career as a professor at UToledo.  

Before managing, Tito was a successful player. Tito will go down in history as the winningest manager in Cleveland baseball with 921 wins and 757 losses (a win/loss percentage of .549). He will undoubtedly end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. 

Slowed by serious medical issues in recent years, Tito plans to spend more time playing with his grandkids, getting healthy (shoulder replacement and double hernia surgery is scheduled soon) and enjoying extended time off after a four-decade grind (Withers, 2023). 

I hope that I have had a hall-of-fame type, positive impact on my wife, children, grandchildren, students, musicians, and the athletes that have played for me. 

America’s Demographics are Changing 

For many years, America has been seen and considered itself a young nation. However, in just eleven years, by 2034, Americans 65 years old or older will outnumber children and youth in the population. America will no longer be a young nation but an old one. Why is our society being transformed from the young to the old? 

Reasons Why America is Getting Older 

Thanks to falling birthrates, longer life expectancy, and the cohort of the baby boomers, (those born between 1946-1964), getting older, our society is being transformed. Already, in about half of the country, there are more people dying than are being born. By 2034, older adults are projected to outnumber young people under age 18 for the first time in U.S. history.

The Increasing Number of Boomers 

The older population is becoming more significant. According to U.S. Census data, the baby boomers are estimated to be 73 million strong. This generation is the second-largest age group after their children, the millennials, born from 1982 to 2000. Since 2010, about 10,000 people per day have turned 65 years old. By 2030, all boomers will be at least 65. 

The Mismatch Between the Old and the Young 

The challenges faced by U.S. society transcend ideology, geography and ethnic or racial category. American politicians, regardless of their party, need to confront these issues with urgency. Aging societies like ours have different needs from younger ones. Yet, American leaders have been slow to address the growing mismatch between the number of old and young. The strains are showing in everything from education, health care, labor, housing, employment, and transportation.

First, let’s look at education. Will more schools close, be torn down, and consolidate because there are no longer enough children and youth to fill them? For example, research from the National Center for Educational Statistics shows that in 2021-2022, there were 755 school closures across the U.S. Will more colleges and universities face financial troubles and be forced to terminate programs, layoff faculty members, close or merge because the number of potential enrollees (graduates from high school) is dropping?

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From a professor’s view, I wonder if we are training future nurses and other health care specialists on how to communicate with and care for the older patient? Are the needs of older patients and their family members being met? Are we training nurses and health care providers how to openly communicate about end-of-life and when to pivot from active, curative care to palliative and hospice care? Published research shows that we are not doing a good job at this.  

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Second, let’s look at health care. As people get older, do they need and use more health care or less? You and I both know the answer to that question. Yet, according to research from Definitive Healthcare, about 330,000 health care providers dropped out of the workforce in 2021 due to retirement, burnout, and pandemic-related stressors. Have those health care providers been replaced? 

Research from the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) in 2022 reported that nearly 45% of doctors are older than age 55, and more than 40% of active physicians will be 65 or older in the next ten years. The average age of a nurse is 57. What happens when all of these physicians and nurses retire? 

Third, let’s look at labor. A reduction in the working-age population due to retirement typically means labor shortages, productivity declines, and slower economic growth. With fewer young people working, revenue for retirement programs is also shrinking. 

Employers are also facing a chronic labor shortage. Due to financial pressures, now many American adults must work into their 60s, 70s and beyond, often in low-paying jobs such as the fast food industry, retail, making deliveries. or cleaning offices. More older people in the work force means that employers will have to adjust by adding ramps, handrails, and higher sinks and toilets to accommodate the need of older workers. These pressures will steadily intensify as the needs of boomers becomes even more important.    

Fourth, let’s look at Social Security and Medicare:  By 2053, more than 40% of the federal budget will go toward programs for seniors adults, primarily Social Security and Medicare — but those programs are not designed for or prepared to handle this new demographic reality. Will these programs remain solvent financially? According to the Social Security Trustees Report of 2023, Social Security trust funds are on course to run out of reserves when today’s 56-year-olds reach the normal retirement age and when today’s youngest retirees turn 73. That is only 9-10 years from now. Meanwhile, the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund is only eight years from insolvency and will exhaust its reserves in 2031. What will our politicians do?  

Aging from a Personal Perspective   

Tito Francona and I will certainly have greater freedom and flexibility in retirement. For one of the few times in our lives, we will not have to follow a strict, daily schedule. For both of us, we have followed a hectic pace and a strict daily schedule for more than 40 years. To be honest, I am looking forward to life slowing down a bit.   

For me, that past schedule involved going to college; eating lunch on the drive to work; working 20-30 hours per week after class; doing homework; studying for exams; coaching the men’s teams at my church; getting married; graduating from college; teaching youth; coaching youth; leading the youth and music at my church; raising and nurturing two kids; coaching their teams; selling sound and lighting equipment to schools and churches; managing and traveling with two different music groups; overseeing the training and education of resident physicians. Whew! I am tired just thinking about the hectic nature of my past. All that was before 23 years as a university professor. Now, here I stand on the precipice of being 65-years old and retiring.    

Although we are both now past our prime physically, I wonder if others see Tito’s and my knowledge, experience, and wisdom. For baseball managers who are always in the public eye, this is probably easier than for people like me who are not. As all Guardian fans know, there was great value in Tito’s learning from his many years of experience.  

Like Adam Grant says on “X” (formerly called Twitter), “Wisdom does not come from experience. It comes from reflecting on experience.” 

A growing body of research has reported an increase in negative attitudes toward older individuals over the years. I believe it. I have felt it. Many older people in the U.S. say that sometimes they feel invisible. Now that I am almost 65, I know exactly what they are talking about. Twenty years ago, I did not. 

Many young people now exhibit more negative views and attitudes toward older adults than they did in the past. Negative beliefs and attitudes towards older adults are increasingly prevalent. Older adults are often considered to be just passive recipients of government programs. They may even be accused of being a burden to younger generations. 

The belief that older adults are less valuable or of no interest to society may contribute to ageism.

Ageism is stereotyping, prejudice, and discriminatory actions or attitudes based on chronological age. These stereotypes can contribute to assumptions about a person’s physical and mental capabilities, social skills, political and religious beliefs, and other traits based on their age.

Age prejudice is one of the most vocalized and institutionalized prejudices in many segments of society. Such prejudice can be manifest as age discrimination – behavior directed at people based on their age, including actions, practices, and policies.

Less Use for Older Adults in U.S. Society   

We live in a country that has long been obsessed with youth and one that works hard to avoid the inevitability of old age. Although growing older often involves gaining maturity and becoming more responsible and respectful, the process of aging can be viewed unfavorably by some. Even those who are aging often say, “Getting older is not all it was cracked up to be.”  

Aging is often considered to be a challenging process, during which individuals lose their confidence and experience a loss of productivity, especially if the older person is afflicted with one or more chronic diseases. Trips to work are replaced by trips to the doctor. 

During the aging process, older adults typically lose many things before they physically die. They lose friends, classmates, siblings, their hearing, eyesight, their social life, teeth, balance, mobility, their strength, memory, their health, and independence. Some become incontinent and even have to wear adult diapers.    

Industrialization, modernization, and urbanization have made older adults less important than in the past. These changes have had the effect of decreasing the need for and visibility of older adults in daily life. As a result, in western societies like the U.S., significant declines in social and cultural status have been observed in older adults over the past century. 

Older Adults Were Young Not Long Ago 

It is important to remember that older adults were young not long ago. They all were in high school, had friends, and jobs. Many dated and got married. Many had children. All of them desired intimacy. 

The desire for intimacy – a sense of closeness and familiarity with other people- is natural in all humans of all ages. Emotional intimacy happens when we care deeply about someone else, feel a sense of trust, share similar values, and are able to express ourselves freely. Physical intimacy refers to acts of touch like hugging, cuddling, hand-holding, and sex. 

In an intimate relationship, one feels valued and connected to his/her partner on an intellectual, emotional, and physical level. This need for intimacy does not decrease with age. In fact, it is  vitally important to our well-being as older adults.

Becoming Older is Harder for Men 

I think that getting older is harder for men that it is for women. You see men are encouraged and probably to some extent genetically predisposed to focus on external performance. This focus can take many different forms: achievements in the gym or in the form of a powerful body; in some form of athletic performance or sport; in a vocation; via the amount of money made per year; how nice his home is; how luxurious his car; how high he can climb in his chosen profession; or in seeking fame or power his corner of the world. For those of us in academia, this often means achieving in the classroom, in research, in peer-reviewed publishing, and in presentations.   

I believe that we need that kind of ambition because it helps move humans forward, even though it comes with problems. The primary problem is that men often focus on external achievement and not internal development. 

As a former 7-12 teacher, college professor, and coach, I have worked with many young men a good portion of my life. Many young men are more familiar with their favorite team’s football statistics than they are with the inner workings of their own hearts. The younger men that I work with are, by and large, estranged from their inner worlds. The pressures of going to school, getting good grades, working, getting into graduate school, and getting a job are barriers. Furthermore, many young men do not have good role models. 

Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist said it this way: “A man spends the first half of his life building his external world, and needs to spend the second half developing his internal world.”  How true this is!  

As we age, Jung’s wise statement becomes more important. Our physical bodies and our external importance inevitably diminish. After several years, people at work forget us. They no longer talk about us. We no longer matter to them. 

Without a rich inner world to explore when the outer world has lost its allure, we become like the high school athletic star whose peak of life was at age 17-18 and always harkens back to his high school days. 

Bertrand Russel, the great British philosopher said it this way: 

“Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.”

I believe that it can be difficult to redirect a retired man’s attention from external to internal things. In the internal world, there are not the same metrics to use as guideposts.  

Yet, the intangible and the internal are equally valuable, if not more so than external things. 

If we can successfully navigate the transition from the external to the internal, all of us will discover as we age that there are untold new territories to be explored that are richer than anything we had in our previous careers. 

No physical or external diminishment can limit each of us from charting these new territories. 

The 1795 Group Can Help 

We care a lot about the world that we will leave for those who will follow in our footsteps. We want this little blue planet to be a better place for all who live on it. 

That’s why we do what we do. We believe in being part of solutions. Let’s work together.  

Perhaps you would like a guest speaker or a presentation on this topic. Perhaps you would like to have your students, learners, or employees enjoy an in-person or virtual professional development workshop in this topical area. Perhaps you need a course to be written for your learners. Whatever your need, the 1795 Group can help. Call us and let’s brainstorm ways to work together.

Dr. Tim Jordan

Dr. Timothy R. Jordan has been a health educator (grades 6-12), Assistant High School Principal, Associate Director of Graduate Medical Education for a large health care system, and a Professor of Public Health for the past 23 years. His areas of research include end-of-life, reducing racial/ethnic health disparities, health behavior change, chronic disease prevention, and smoking prevention and cessation. He is the founder and the current director of the 1795 Group.

Contact us today for your free one hour consultation.

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