Life expectancies are growing rapidly; the average person lived only thirty-seven years at the beginning of the eighteenth century; a child born today will be expected to live more than twice as long. Yet, despite the radical and growing increase in life expectancy, typical life cycles have not changed. We still expect that youth will be devoted to formal education. A male adult will be expected to work from the time he finishes school until he retires, typically around age sixty-five. A woman may follow the same path, or she may leave the work force to raise a family. In a world in which almost everything has changed, little has changed about the typical life cycle.
Despite increasing life expectancies, society still focuses to a very large extent on “youth”; the models for this group are very young athletes and entertainers. But as life expectancies continue to expand, the very idea of “youth” may change. In today’s world, someone who is forty years old has probably not even hit the midpoint of his or her life. And as more and more people live to age 100 and beyond, the whole concept of “middle age,” “retirement age,” and “old age” needs to be re-evaluated.
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