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New MacArthur network to examine impact of aging society

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is creating a new inter-disciplinary research network to help America prepare for the challenges and opportunities posed by our aging society. In the middle of the next decade, the United States will become an aging society, one feature of which is that those over age 60 will outnumber those under age 15. Although the nation will become increasingly gray in subsequent decades, we are not well prepared to deal with the myriad consequences of this impending reality.

"By 2050, American society may well have more walkers than strollers," said MacArthur Vice President Julia Stasch, who announced the Network in remarks at The Gerontological Society of America's 61st Annual Scientific Meeting. "This new research network will address the broad social implications of this uncharted demographic territory, examining questions like: how can a large, longer-living, elderly population maintain its productivity and contribute to its well-being and society's? How will it change our economy, our culture, our politics? Over time, will America look better, worse, or just different? And how can public policies in immigration, work force development, health care, and others and reform of our civic institutions affect our future in a positive direction?"

The MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society, supported by a three-year, $3.9 million MacArthur grant, will be chaired by Dr. John Rowe, Professor at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and former CEO of Aetna. In the 1990s, Rowe chaired MacArthur's Network on Successful Aging, which found that most of the factors that predict successful aging are not solely genetic but at least equally related to lifestyle. The Network published a best-selling book, Successful Aging.

"Much prior work in this area has focused on the economic implications of the looming demographic transition, including the increasing burden of entitlements," said Rowe. "The new Network will supplement these efforts by exploring the substantial opportunities that may be derived by harnessing the wisdom and energy of the elderly in new organizations and arrangements that provide them with meaningful roles and yield economic, social, behavioral, and health benefits for them and other generations."

Early next year, the Network will present new U.S. population and mortality projections based on emerging evidence and will compare these to current government forecasts. The projections will forecast mortality under scenarios that take account of advances in bio-gerontology with its life-extending potential and the effects of unhealthy life conditions. Such projections have major implications for the development of social, economic, and health policy.

Drawing on the collective expertise of its members, the Network will examine the potential benefits of remodeling the distribution of key activities, including education, work, and leisure, across the life course. Research and projects will focus on three themes:

  • the positive and negative impact of key intergenerational issues on families and society;
  • the development of meaningful roles for older people; and
  • the potential effects that the various sources of diversity and inequalities may have on the structure, economy, and overall health of an aging society.


Contact: Andy Solomon
The Gerontological Society of America

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