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Productive Aging - Policy Considerations

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Through the efforts of The Commonwealth Fund and other allied research efforts, it is possible to quantify the scope of the daily contributions that older adults provide to their employers, families, and communities. But, as many elders point out, they face constant barriers in their desire to remain in the mainstream of activity. Age discrimination in employment continues to be a part of everyday life. Colleges and universities remain focused on developing programs to attract young people and are less interested in attracting older adults interested in retraining; vestiges of depression-era policies designed to encourage the retirement of older people to make room for younger workers remain in practice; incentives exist to encourage older people to remove themselves from significant roles; and social and economic disincentives frequently confront those who want to remain economic contributors. These are the policies and practices that proponents of productive aging seek to change.

Economists point out that the economic challenges of the early twenty-first century are quite different than that of the previous century. Contrary to having vast supplies of young skilled labor, the nation has been faced with modest economic growth, a limited supply of skilled labor, and an aging population. The United States will need to develop strategies to respond to these changing economic and demographic conditions. According the Hudson Institute, in their report Workforce 2020, should America continue to experience even limited economic growth, sustained skilled-labor shortages loom on the horizon. Economists argue that rather than encouraging early retirement of older workers, public policy needs to be directed toward retraining and engaging the available talent.

Productive aging calls into question the lost opportunities to both society and the individual through policies or practices of articulated withdrawal of older people from productive activity. Policies, from Social Security to private pension policies, need to be considered in light of the changing economic landscape and the overall benefits to the individual, the tax base, and the economy, should older people choose to be engaged in productive activity well into their later years. While productive aging is not the holy grail of aging, it does raise questions about the enhanced roles some older people may choose to play in a modern and mature society.



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ROWE, J. W., and KAHN, R. L. Successful Aging. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.

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