Why are young people the main characters in our daily advertisements? Why are older people never the choice? Is it a modern societal decision to fade away the elderly from our economic model? These are questions that I’ve posed to myself after comparing Africa, the continent with the highest birth rates in the world, to the United States of America, the wealthiest and most rapidly aging nation.
Africa is facing a revolutionary moment where their incredible number of birth rates and rapidly growing economy are merging with each other. My perception being in Tanzania was that of a country in rapid, but conscious, development. One thing that struck me as very different from America is that Tanzania has been able to preserve the elevated status of the elderly and even gives them the power of acknowledged wisdom. To understand this statement, it is imperative to not overlook the fact that in traditional societies, older generations are considered valuable in as they serve as the best makers of tools, weapons, baskets, pots and textiles . They also serve as caregivers and food producers for their grandchildren . In contrast, America has paved the way for the elderly in a slightly different manner.
In America, we are taught to respect our elders. But this respect is usually attached to their utility value. The more useful they are, the more likely they are to be respected . Our elderly are pretty much looked as a burden to society if they cannot produce a commodity at a certain rate. Furthermore, if you go to a hospital in the US there is an explicit hospital policy termed “age-based allocation of healthcare resources” meant to give younger patients priority over older patients whenever healthcare resources are limited, on the grounds that medical time, energy, and money should not be invested in saving elderly lives written off as “fragile and failing” .
We have managed to create an elderly society that is totally dependent on the very system that molded them. We have gone on and crafted different options for retirement plans to manage older people. But why? Well, for one we live longer than people in Africa do and two, we need a way to manage our high number of unhealthy and non-productive elderly people. The question becomes, why are older people unhealthy and unproductive? Shouldn’t we aim to be to be healthy, productive and resourceful until the day we leave this world? It sounds a bit concerning that we have created a system where the vast majority of its members end up being completely dependent on others to perform their basic needs when they are old.
In America, we believe life’s best years are when we are in our 20’s and 30’s but the reality is that while we are young, sexy, and physically fit at this age, there is an issue with giving it the most amount of weight to a lifespan of 80+ years. These are all transient qualities of our lives. We have created a culture based on impermanent values. We created an American value that prejudices against the ages, and fosters our cult of youth.