How old is old?

Publicerat 18 Jan, 2006

”I’m the personification of the plug in the pipeline,“ said Eva Marling, a former television journalist who will soon celebrate her 65th birthday.
She is one of the members of the so-called ”Meat Mountain“ who attended the Umbrella Project’s breakfast debate on work and the elderly on 16 December in Stockholm.

Minister for Finance Per Nuder’s term for the “baby boomers”, i.e. the generation born in the 1940s, will go down in history. If we remember him for nothing else, we will remember his use of the term “Meat Mountain”. 

In a mysterious, almost magical way, people seem to fall into the category of resource-devouring consumers of care and healthcare as soon as they reach an age that a particular authority, employer or politician feels is too high. They automatically become members of the group, “finished products”, irrespective of their abilities or ambitions. 

What does a person who has learned a lot over the years and who has a long and varied experience of life have to offer the rest of us? Not much apparently, if he or she can be defined as old in accordance with current policies on the elderly and the prevailing attitudes in working life.

But how old do we actually have to be to be considered old? Can we throw in the towel when we are 45? A 65 year old woman who is bursting with new ideas and curiosity – can she be considered young?

“The question of who is elderly and who is not is not so easy to answer,” said Pär Alexandersson, principal secretary of the Government Committee on Policy for the Elderly, Senior 2005, which has now submitted its final report.
He tells us about a survey aimed at different age groups. Who defined themselves as being middle-aged? Well, approximately 30 per cent of the interviewees aged between 15 and 29 for example(!). But people who were 65 and 74, or even 80 and above, also claimed that they were middle-aged.

“But we have lots of young people who can’t get a job,” said a member of the audience suddenly during the breakfast debate.
“I think we should avoid seeing these groups as having to fight each other for a position on the labour market,” answered Pär Alexandersson, and pointed out that research in other countries shows that this is not the case.

“The more people who find a position on the market, the better it will be,” he said, and emphasised that both the older and younger generations are needed, side by side, in working life, in the same way that we need both men and women, people with an immigrant background and  disabled people.

The report of Senior 2005, a 700-page tome on policy for the elderly in the future, was presented in the autumn. Apart from dealing with traditional issues such as security, care and healthcare, the Committee presented a new and unique perspective in this context: the right of the elderly to their own, individual development, coupled with their possibility to contribute to the ongoing development of society. If someone in this highly heterogeneous group wishes to study, then perhaps we need some form of study loan scheme for the elderly.

However, Pär Alexandersson pointed out that there is a major risk associated with the new pension system:
“Those who will be forced to go on working are those who earn least, and those who earn most will be able to take early retirement.”

“Just think if the personnel department had asked: "What do we have to gain by keeping Marling here"? asked Eva Marling. "Perhaps she could act as a mentor for new employees?"

Three years ago, at the age of 62, she retired after working for 30 years as a journalist for SVT, Sweden’s public service television company. 

“They could also have asked: "What can we do so that Marling’s colleagues will want her to stay?" Well, they could have arranged for me to be a member of a group consisting of people of all possible ages, and made sure that it did not become a group made up of morose old men and women! 

“We need more determination and fighting spirit. We should learn from the fight for women’s rights and use those methods because, let’s not forget, we are entitled to stay at work  until we are 67.
As they say: It’s not your age, it’s the way you swing it.” 

  Marie Eriksson

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