Given the decades-long advance warning, why has the United States failed to prepare for the oncoming age wave of the twenty-first century? While costly government obligations, most notably Medicare and Social Security, dominate U.S. political debate around the topic of aging, the rapid aging of baby boomers has faced U.S. society with a variety of under-recognized and no less critical challenges, including the adaptation of core societal institutions – from education and employment to familial roles and housing – to a progressively older and more dependent population.
Spring 2015 Dædalus
Without policies in place to help the United States successfully adapt to an aging society, the nation will further suffer from intergenerational tensions, socioeconomic disparity, and an inability to provide the needed goods and services to some of its most vulnerable members. But while the oncoming and likely permanent demographic shift will present challenges, it also presents opportunity: the substantial positive contributions and potential productivity of its aging population.
The Spring 2015 issue of Dædalus on “Successful Aging of Societies” explores the opportunities and challenges facing the United States as it undergoes an unprecedented demographic transformation. The issue is guest edited by Academy Fellow John W. Rowe, Julius B. Richmond Professor of Health Policy and Aging at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Chair of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society. The MacArthur Network – whose members author many of the essays in this issue of Dædalus – is an interdisciplinary group of scholars that studies the social, economic, and institutional implications of an aging society.
As Rowe explains in his introduction, the goal of the MacArthur Network is to “develop and help implement policies that assure our transition to a cohesive, productive, secure, and equitable aging society.” Though the costs of inaction are great, Rowe explains, we still “have time to put in place policies that will help strengthen the future workforce, increase productive engagement of older individuals, and enhance the capacity of families to support elders.”
Among the essays in the volume, S. Jay Olshanksy’s (University of Illinois at Chicago) “The Demographic Transformation of America” looks at the changing face of aging and life expectancy in America. Lisa F. Berkman (Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies), Axel Boersch-Supan (Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy), and Mauricio Avendano (London School of Economics and Political Science) explore how adaptation of our expectations of the elderly can lead to a more productive and resilient society. In “Resetting Social Security,” S. Jay Olshansky (University of Illinois at Chicago), Dana P. Goldman (University of Southern California), and John W. Rowe (Columbia University) consider the critical financial safety net of Social Security and what impact might result from further changes to its age of eligibility requirements. And David E. Bloom, David Canning, and Alyssa Lubet (all at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) outline some of the major challenges associated with widespread population aging and describe current and possible future responses to them.
Print and Kindle copies of the new issue can be ordered at: https://www.amacad.org/publications/daedalus.