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The Oldest Old - Outlook For The Future

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However, the outlook is not necessarily gloomy. Like any age group in a population, the oldest old at a specified point in time comprises individuals with differing lifetime experiences. Over time, the lifetime experiences of those currently aged eighty-five and over will be changing. Thus, the characteristics of the oldest old cannot be viewed as fixed, either absolutely or relative to the norm of some other age group. This process, known as cohort succession suggests that the oldest old of the future will differ from that of the present in some material respects. While health status deterioration and widowhood seem inevitable consequences of advancing age, the same need not be true for poverty.

Oldest old women of the future will generally have much more lifetime labor market experience than do their counterparts today and, accordingly, greater access to pension income in their own right. The availability of such pension income greatly reduces the prospect of poverty. Furthermore, the amount of education an individual has attained will condition her occupation and earnings history. In the aggregate, a person with more education will have had access to better paying jobs with greater benefits throughout her working life. As the oldest old of 2000 (persons born prior to the World War I) are gradually replaced over the next several decades first by the parents of the baby boom generation and then by the baby boomers themselves, the average level of education completed will rise from less than completion of secondary school to nearly one year of college.

In summary, it seems inevitable that those aged eighty-five and over will grow in numbers and proportions for the foreseeable future. At present, the economic well-being of this group is generally inferior to that of younger persons. This situation need not persist, at least to the same degree, over time because the process of cohort succession guarantees that the oldest old of future decades will differ from those of the present in several respects, including more favorable financial prospects.

WILLIAM J. SEROW

BIBLIOGRAPHY

GRUNDY, E. "Demography and Gerontology: Mortality Trends among the Oldest Old." Ageing and Society 17 (1997): 713–725.

PERLS, T. "The Oldest Old." Scientific American 272 (January 1995): 70–75.

SEROW, W. J., and SLY, D. F. "Trends in the Characteristics of the Oldest-Old: 1940 to 2020." Journal of Aging Studies 2 (1998): 145–156.

SUZMAN, R. M.; WILLIS, D. P.; and MANTON, K.G. The Oldest Old. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

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