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Age Integration and Age Segregation - Prospects For The Future

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As Matilda White Riley argues, age integration is already under way in U.S. society at the dawn of the third millennium. Many retirement communities have sprung up near or on university campuses, with the express purpose of bringing people from different age groups together. Numerous community-based and national programs attempt to bring older people and children together (see Newman et al.). Most such programs are aimed at using the wisdom and experience of older people to benefit the young. This can be especially advantageous in poor communities where the parents may be unable to give their children the attention, teaching, and emotional support that they need. But there are benefits to the older people, too, as discussed earlier.

The early retirement trend had abated as of the mid-1990s (Quinn). Improved health among older people and the tremendous hole that will be left as the baby boom cohort enters retirement age suggest this trend will continue for the first few decades of the twenty-first century at least. Cohort improvements in health and longevity may lead to a rethinking of age categories—with people in their seventies being considered middle-aged rather than "old," for example. People's expectations of themselves and those of potential employers may change accordingly.

However, it is impossible to predict what will happen in the future on the basis of past or current trends. The trend toward increased longevity could be slowed by the cumulative effects of increased pollution or new and more resistant diseases. Widespread economic and technological changes could fundamentally alter the way societies organize work. If age integration becomes much more widespread, it is possible that it will fuel conflict between age groups. For these reasons, greater age integration cannot be prescribed as a sure antidote to future social ills. Still, as age barriers are lifted and the benefits are realized, it is unlikely that society would return to age discrimination. At the turn of the third millennium, age integration offers considerable promise.



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