While there has been much recent public debate over the ethics of ‘assisted dying’, other questions about the purpose of a long life, how generations should get along with each other and the role of belief and spirituality receive little attention. Professor of Gerontology Simon Biggs* reflects on these vital questions facing humanity in the 21 st Century.
In 2050, the global population aged over 60 will reach two billion, making this age group three times larger than it was in 2000. This is a challenge that is facing both developed and emerging economies, and the debate on the future shape of a long life is one that is key to social development in the 21st century.
Almost all societies are moving from a population shaped like a triangle, to one shaped like a column. That is to say that in traditional societies, where a lot of children are born but die relatively quickly, and with many adults also dying in early midlife – through poor health care, during childbirth and the greater likelihood of physical threats and accidents – the population profile tapers off pretty quickly, with only a few elders surviving to the top of the age pyramid.
Positive links have been found between spirituality, health and well-being in later life.
In modern societies, however, people are having fewer children and living longer, which will eventually create a population in which each age group is of approximately the same size. So the challenge boils down to two main issues. The first is mostly personal and concerns asking, ‘What is the purpose of this gift of a long life?’ The second is intergenerational: ‘how do we adapt to a society where generations will be approximately the same size?’
Simon Biggs also explores the following:
- Is working longer the answer?
- Does belief and spirituality offer an alternative answer?
SOURCE: Biggs, Simon. “Ageing Offers Spiritual, Missional Opportunites.” The Melbourne Anglican, December 2017.
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*Professor Simon Biggs: Senior Manager, Research and Policy Centre at the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Professor of Gerontology and Social Policy at the University of Melbourne
Produced by the librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia