More men? More older men?
All the business of caring for an aging population aside – health care, insurance, pharmaceuticals, retirement communities, financial planning – what could this mean for American society? For our beleaguered employment environment? For Medicare and Social Security?
What might it mean for gray divorce and remarriage? For online dating?
Will the next decades be raining men? Older men?
About a week ago, the New York Times hosted an interesting discussion on its Room for Debate pages, asking if America is ready for more old men.
The participating editorials attack the subject from a variety of angles, and I plucked a few tidbits to chew on, here. Demographers note that
the number of men age 65 and older increased by 21 percent from 2000 to 2010, nearly double the 11.2 percent growth rate for women in that age group.
Opinions are all over the map as to what the “more men problem” could mean. Some experts are looking at the increased economic burdens to society. Others are viewing the advantages – not only in what these men may continue to contribute, but the social advantages, believing that if men live longer, there will be “shorter widowhoods” and retiree couples rocking on the proverbial front porch; no longer the silver haired sorority.
You’re only as young as the woman you feel
So here come the baby boomers – yes, I am among them, and no, we won’t slink off quietly. We’re (apparently) taking better care of ourselves, we’re certainly looking better than “old folk” once did, and we’re refusing to kick it quite so fast, even with four decades behind us that include an increasing number of women wearing down in the wilds of the workforce.
And yes, women are paying a price for those long hours and stressful jobs once reserved for men – especially with no “wife” to come home to. Women are also increasingly devoted to mothering (in more professional fashion), increasingly “sandwiched” in caring for kids longer and elder parents living longer, and many – finding themselves caught in the constancy of running 24/7 – the mad juggle of Breadwinner-Superwoman cum Chief Cook and Bottle Washer.
Yes, that was me. And maybe it’s you. Women whose “having it all” was more like “doing it all.” Women under stress. Women losing their safety nets (home, marriage). Women, potentially living shorter lives, while the men are living longer. And those men, with the aid of the little Blue Pill, enjoying growing older more than they once did, possibly coupling up a second or third time, with nicely nipped-and-tucked older (younger?) women, but nonetheless – coupled in their dotage.
You’re only as young as the woman you feel?
Life, Death, Joy, Grief
In a rather callous analysis of the senior situation, author Jane Gross confronts the demographic data with, well… you could say aplomb. Or, bitterness. She writes:
Workplace changes, coupled with the “having it all’’ lifestyle, which presumes shared responsibility for children and household tasks but hasn’t turned out that way; plus divorce, single parenthood, chosen or imposed; and the increase in the number of never-married women who have no division of labor, even an unfair one, would suggest that women will start to die younger and men will catch up to them. But gender equality is a myth, in some ways a pretty story we tell ourselves and in other ways a reason to be glad to be a woman.
Look at the data about widowers vs widows: The men have a higher incidence of mental and physical illness, disability, death and suicide.
I may agree that “having it all” is a pretty myth, but is this author happy that men are less resilient than women?
Professor Stephanie Coontz takes a more upbeat stand, reflecting on the fact that men continue to make strides in their “nurturing” skills and sharing of traditional female tasks. Her position is somewhat kinder to say the least, but she doesn’t want us to get ahead of ourselves, reminding us:
… there are still five million more women than men in that age group [65+]
She goes on to write:
… it remains true that older men have more opportunities than older women to repartner with someone of a younger age…men and women in happy partnerships will have more time to enjoy and nurture each other. And an older woman who leaves an unhappy marriage already has a much greater chance of repartnering, if she wants to…
Really? Has this author been on Match lately?
Perhaps I was wrong? Perhaps this is bad news for those of us at midlife? Is the 50-something single woman left to become the caretaker of the 70+ man, no matter what? And the 65-year old woman can play with the 80-year old? Older men-younger women rules, and that’s the name of the game?
Okay, okay, I’ll stow my sarcasm and I won’t jump to conclusions. And fascinating as this dialog may be, the voices on Room for Debate left me wanting. Desirous of the personal.
For one thing, 65 doesn’t seem particularly decrepit any longer – certainly not to me. I count individuals from 20-something to 60-something in my circle of friends.
The sixties? Old?
Hardly. They’re vibrant, contributing, curious, and sexual. Sure, at 60-something they have aches and pains, a history of wins and losses, financial burdens – burdens of all sorts. So do I. Don’t you?
I grant that women are tougher than we appear; we learn resilience from a young age in ways that differ from the sort of ruggedness that men are expected to display. But I’m happy if men are living longer. The economics? We’re screwed already in so many ways, and I’d like the men I know around as long as possible – our husbands and lovers, our neighbors and friends, our fathers and uncles, our grandfathers with their wisdom and humor, and I hope – getting a little on the side.
Seriously? I loathe the detached fashion in which people are so easily disposed of, or relegated to a statistic. And as much as I might have my own issues with what I’ve had to carry in my lifetime as a woman – and with the “good fight” that remains – why wouldn’t we be happy that we’re living longer, healthier lives, if indeed that’s the message in all this?
Major impacts? Of course.
And those include narrowing options for women by taking on and dealing with too much – a hugely complex set of issues, many of which are enumerated by Jane Gross. As for the inevitable increased burden to care giving, we’ll have to deal with that, too. But my preference? Let’s be wiser in our choices concerning quality of life – and otherwise, figure it out – for both sexes.
© D A Wolf