Fashions change, political movements and parties come and go and empires rise and fall in ways that can startle and even amaze us. We also know, from long experience, that people who peer into the future and speculate about such things are very likely to be wrong. The mighty Soviet Union collapses. The People’s Republic of China builds the second largest capitalist economy in the world. Prisoner Nelson Mandela becomes President Nelson Mandela. Few could have or would have predicted any of these events in advance of their unfolding.
Aging, in contrast is both mandatory and highly predictable. In all of human history, not one person has every grown young. On a national scale, the aging of populations proceeds with mathematical precision. Demographers have made and continue to make very accurate estimations of how old the American public was and will be at different points in time.
• As late as 1930, people over 65 made up just 5.4 percent of America’s population.
• In 2010, members of the Post War generation started turning 65.
• By 2012, America’s 50 and older population will reach 100 million.
• By 2020, the United States will have more than 20 percent of its population older than 65 years. For the first time in history, elders will outnumber children under the age of 5.
• By 2025, members of the Post War generation will be between the ages of 61 and 79.
These changes will occur regardless of how we feel about them. Unlike the vagaries of politics and personalities, the workings of aging proceed with clocklike precision and the arrow of time always points in the same direction. The Iron Law of Aging demands that, each and every morning, we all wake up one day older. This unbreakable law is leading us towards a collision between an aging Post War generation and the youth-obsessed society they brought into being.