Columbia University in the City of New YorkThe John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
 
Research on an Aging Society

Project Issues and Themes

Early in the planning period, a meeting of leading demographers concluded that the population projections currently available from the Social Security Administration and the Census Bureau for the years 2030 and 2050 will require supplementation in order to fully support the detailed and robust deliberations of the themes envisioned for the Network. These supplemental projections will take into account a variety of optimistic and pessimistic population scenarios based on such factors as advances in medical technologies on the one hand, or comparatively unstable and unhealthy life conditions (e.g., obesity and diabetes) on the other, and will also include stratification by socioeconomic status, as well as various assumptions regarding immigration, morbidity, and mortality. These projections are currently under development and will be available for analysis at the outset of the Network's research.

Intergenerational Issues, Meaningful Roles, Diversity and Inequality

Of the many issues embedded in the concept of our Aging Society, our preliminary discussions have led us to focus on a robust, interdisciplinary evaluation of three important themes, areas that provide special opportunities or are currently relatively neglected. The first theme relates to both the positive and negative implications of the cluster of

How will the technological changes in our society influence the capacity of the elderly to function in the workplace and in the community and at home?

intergenerational issues at the levels of society and the family. One positive aspect of an Aging Society, for example, is the opportunity it will likely provide for the creative enhancement of interaction between generation, characterized by transfers of support, wisdom, and knowledge. On the other hand, a possible negative aspect of an Aging Society could be political warfare between generations.

The second theme, the development of meaningful roles deals with the potential significant modifications in the opportunities and responsibilities of individuals and generations. Retirees often have no role or status in America today and the coming demographic changes will require significant modifications in many of our core societal institutions, including retirement, the workplace, political parties, religious organizations, educational institutions, and the family itself. How can a larger and longer-living elderly population find greater opportunities, through civic engagement and in the workforce, to maintain their productivity and to contribute to their own, and society's, well-being? One of the issues to be evaluated is the feasibility of remodeling the life course to modify the "block-like" distribution of education, work and leisure to a more fluid and functional approach that better serves the needs of all generations.

The projected changes in the ethnic and racial composition of society that will be concomitant with the aging of society will likely have many unpredictable social, cultural, and political effects.

The third theme addresses the potential impact of the various sources of diversity and inequalities on the structure, economy, and overall health of an Aging Society. The projected changes in the ethnic and racial composition of society that will be concomitant with the aging of society will likely have many significant, and to a large extent, unpredictable social, cultural, and political effects. A major challenge and opportunity for the U.S. will be to develop the policies and modifications in our social, economic, and cultural structures that will facilitate greater integration across potential divisions in our society as it becomes increasingly diverse. Additionally, it is necessary to determine how social and economic inequalities are shaping the disparate aging experiences of different groups and what policies will be needed to mitigate any adverse consequences. One important issue related to this that was identified during the planning phase, and which will receive substantial attention, is the question of whether the absolute level or relative level of socioeconomic status, i.e., the gap between socioeconomic groups, should be the critical dimension guiding policy development.

Cross-Cutting Issues

Although fiscal and health care issues loom as critically important to the three aforementioned themes, they are currently receiving substantial attention in a variety of other efforts. Accordingly, they will be included in our efforts but will not take center stage. In addition to the three main themes, a number of important cross-cutting issues will command substantial attention during our deliberations. These include the impact of both health related and non-health-related technology, especially the likely future of the generational "digital divide;" international comparisons, especially with the experiences in western Europe; and the potential benefits of remodeling the distribution of key activities, including education, work, and leisure, across the life course.

The MacArthur Research Network on an Aging is funded by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
© 2008 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. All Rights Reserved.
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