Life in the USA
Retirement and Aging
American Attitudes Toward the Elderly
The Youth Culture. Present-day American attitudes about the elderly have been reinforced by a century's worth of media, particularly movies and television. From the 1950's onward, a great culture of youth, fed by teen heros like James Dean and his sucessors over the decades, emerged and strengthened. Old people were left out of the picture. The period after World War Two also saw great mobility in America, which led to the break-up of large extended families. The old person was no longer seen as a useful member of a family team, but rather as a drain on the family's resources.
The Shrinking Family. Older people had previously depended on their families, hence on younger people, for support in their “declining years,” but suddenly that support was gone. Older people suffered as a result. Government programs could provide money at best, and never enough of it, hardly a substitute for a caring, loving family. Living past seventy became, for many, a rather bleak prospect, a time of loneliness, poverty and illness.
The Stereotype. The youth culture did another great disservice in stereotyping old people as chronically ill, unable to work, behind the times, slow-thinking, useless financial burdens on society. The idea that old people could actually fall in love or have sex with each other is embarrassing to many Americans, old, young and in-between. The baby boomer generation, which at present is fast entering the ranks fo the elderly, has other ideas about this stereotype.
Older Americans are Vital. Not one of these stereotypes is true, of course, certainly not the poverty notion. Americans over the age of fifty own 75 percent of all American assets and spend half the money. A full 70 percent of these people own their own homes. They vote and are active in the community to a greater extent than young people. You can find them out there doing sports and outdoor activities, or working out at the gym. If they find themselves single, divorced or widowed, they keep the Internet dating services humming, looking for each other. Just like younger people, they are just as likely to fall in love and, yes, they do actually have sex with each other.
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