Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Arianne Coleman, The New Age of Ageing: How society needs to change, Policy Press, 2016, 0 4473 2683 0, pbk, ix + 276 pp, £14.99
As the subtitle of this book suggests, the authors have an agenda: to stop society treating older people as if they are somehow different from everyone else. They do not deny the reality of ageing – far from it – but by the end of the book the reader is clear that there is no simple category of ‘the elderly’, with defined characteristics, into which elderly people fit. To take just one example of the many issues that the authors tackle: Marks and Spencer, to its surprise, found that a new range of fashion clothes with long sleeves designed for 18 to 34 year olds was in fact more popular with women aged between 55 and 70. This realisation led to a change in the character of the range designed for the older age group. Assumptions had been made, and subsequently questioned: precisely the journey that the authors set out to encourage.
The early chapters study demographics, healthy life expectancy, and the narratives about ageing circulating in our society (such as ‘decline’, ‘dependence’, and ‘generational conflict over resources’). As the title of chapter 3 suggests, ‘society ages people’, whereas the reality is that people are living longer healthy and active lives, leading the authors to ask for a ‘lifecourse’ narrative that recognises the changes that take place across the whole of a person’s life.
Each subsequent chapter then tackles a particular issue as it relates to older people: the economics of ageing, elderly consumers, employment, media exclusion, body image, housing, caring, preparation for death, the enjoyable aspects of old age, wisdom and memories, and political activism. Throughout, as well as research-based evidence, the authors employ interview transcripts to useful effect.
Of particular interest to readers of this Newsletter will be the fourth chapter, on the economics of ageing, and the sixth, on employment. The former shows that there is no ‘time bomb’ or ‘agequake’, shows that elderly people make substantial contributions to our society and economy, and suggests that the notion of economic conflict between generations masks the far more important economic conflict between rich and poor. The latter discusses the variety of reasons for older people remaining in paid employment, and suggests a variety of flexibilities that would ease transitions into retirement.
Scattered throughout the book are passages about state, occupational, and private pensions. If ever there is a second edition then it would benefit from a chapter about elderly people’s income strategies and their components: employment income, state pensions, occupational pensions, private pensions, and savings. It would be particularly useful to discuss the ways in which the state pension is changing ( – the new Single Tier State Pension will increase today’s Basic Pension to the level of current means-tested provision), possible future changes ( – perhaps towards an unconditional Citizen’s Pension), and the ways in which future changes might facilitate the changes that the authors call for elsewhere in their agenda: the abolition of poverty, and the more flexible employment market that older people need.
But there is more than enough material in this first edition to be getting on with. The New Age of Ageing is an important book, and our society would benefit from policy-makers taking note of the authors’ numerous recommendations.