Once upon a forgotten time, the feminism (or feminisms) we now know and enjoy did not exist. But thanks to Betty and Gloria and Germaine and all the gang, the agitations of the 1970s created the foundation for a shared morality, a gendered etiquette that is (with major lapses still) socially well-policed, a presumptively universal demand for fairness / equity along with a natural celebration of we-can-do-anything female accomplishment.
Hurrying to our point, we ask : for those Western world-ers aged over-60, is there to be an equivalent of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In or Samantha Ettus’s The Pie Life? Or The Beauty Myth? Or The Backlash? How could we transmute the phrase having-it-all into our modern cult of ageing? Is there a super-galactico-geriatrico coming along soon to proclaim new demands, declare new sanctities?
Inter alia, the RINKLI FUNSTAZ proposition says this : that the Third Age (a tired term, we know) is being electrified by the following features, features which will in their successive interactions push into play a uniquely 21st century grey equivalent to feminism:
- The morbidity of faith
- The de-senescence of family life
- The digitalisation of life-planning tools
Faith, Hope and Parity
In today’s France, around two-thirds of the population define themselves as non-religious, with some 30% as “convinced atheists”. (Source : Le monde/Win-Gallup). All of French society has long since and irretrievably been penetrated by la laïcité.
In the UK, YouGov (2015) informs that only some 41% of the over-60s believe that “there is a god”; the figure for the 40-59s is 33%.
For the US, Pew – not the right brand-name here somehow – report that whereas in 2007, 63% of American citizens would be less likely to vote for a Presidential candidate who does not believe in god, this proportion had fallen to 51% by 2016. The US Census Bureau was reporting by 2012 that US citizens opting into the category “no religion specified” had broadly doubled in the previous decade. (Let’s heavily caveat-up here : these figures relate to a low starting-base and the family of religious affiliations remains numerically strong and powerful in the US. But this truth does not disrupt our point here).
Our point is indeed this. The population of secularised septuagenarians is rising. This is a profound dynamic. That our lives are indeed earth-bounded is the psychological lubricant of the new Third Age. Many might regret this. But a swelling generation of the grey and the bald is going to devote ever less energy to prepping for the afterlife. The prevailing scale of religious observance is one thing – many people might well go to church for reasons that are more communal than liturgical – the scale of private belief in the supernatural quite another. Millions of BBs are joining the alumni association of Professors Hitchens and Dawkins and Harris. We cannot imagine that this is having no effect on their personal philosophies for practical ageing.
More widely, any assumption that older people are naturally and permanently more conservative than their nieces and nephews becomes weaker as each year passes. (Pascal’s Wager does not seem to be growing in popularity in any quarter). We return to this theme passim.
Between 2000 and 2015, the number of live births among women over 40 doubled in the UK (from 15,066 to 29,241). (Source : ONS).
We see something of a similar picture in France where the number of over-45 year old mothers has been steadily increasing – now standing at 58 per 10,000 adult women. (Source : Insee 2015); one new-born French infant in twenty has a mother over 40 now.
The US Census meanwhile informs that while there were ca 7, 350 babies born to mothers in the age band 45-54 in 2007 this figure had increased by 20% by 2015. Elsewhere, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that : “The first birth rate for women aged 40–44 was steady in the 1970s and started increasing in the 1980s. The rate more than doubled from 1990 to 2012”.
We might note too as we pass here that (though the figure does not stay perfectly steady) ca 40% of all American births are now to unmarried mothers; the equivalent figure for the UK is just less than 50%; for France, the figure is, by 2016, 60% (cf 38% in the mid-90s).
Now, social trends analysis can sometimes make too much of demographic shifts, over-dramatising the impacts for the here-and-now, seeing too much significance (for culture, markets, personal relations…) in the gradual bulging or shrinking of one age segment or another. But somewhere in the story we outline here lies a brusque evolution of entitlement. The freedom to do things felt among people who were once disqualified from doing so – by reason of age – has got seriously elastic. As taboos falls, so the beneficiaries – the liberated – do not stand around feeling wimpily grateful. No, they want applause and celebration.
See the future. An unmarried / unattached woman in her late 40s who gives birth for the first time wants her right to do exactly this to be socially and culturally concretised. A 58 year old woman who marries a 31 year old man wants a bridal shower, gifts not tuts. The RINKLI FUNSTAZ motif implies a redefinition of life’s just desserts, the sheer death of being apologetic or embarrassed about one’s life choices as a grooving septua.
And soon anyone who says : “Act your age, Grandma” will not be gigglingly ignored – he will stand accused of a new form of discrimination and sexism. Watch this space for the birth of the phrase Young Chauvinist Piglet. Or something such like. And watch while the phrase “senior moment” dresses in a completely different meaning.
And will there be freshman frat parties in what are now called retirement homes, new rites of Third Age passage? You bet.
The New Perspicacity
For much of the 20th century’s proletariat, the actuarials were clear enough. If you survived into your 60s, you might (just) be able to enjoy a small public pension and some gruel-thin welfare provision. But soon the past decades of bad diet, hard labour, poor housing, tobacco and perhaps alcohol would cut you down. In the USA, it was in 1979 that average male life expectancy stretched beyond 70 for the first time in history. By 1981, in Mrs. Thatcher’s first term, male life expectancy in the UK was still only 71 years. (Sources : Berkeley.edu/ONS). As you, a horny-handed son or daughter, looked forward on your 65th birthday back in the day, there was, sadly, little to see.
These days, it is a much changed perspective. Across Europe and North America, those with their 70th birthday on the horizon can generally see rather a lot coming down the track. It’s not just trends analysts who can read the news about much enhanced longevity, who can grasp the meaning of compressed morbidity, who can broadly know (we accept that there some controversies here) which foods are nutritious / health-enhancing (and which are duff), who can follow the march of dementia and related conditions (and their ever improving treatments) in the social order around them…
And as they see so much coming (in the setting of an expectation of a longer life), so they can do things about it. They are no longer, as economists might call them, price-takers; ageing stops being a take-it-or-leave-it affair; it can become a project, a pro-am competition for better knowledge and more space, a self-actualising determination to control. Protecting and parading one’s cognitive powers, for example, will soon become like – as in one’s earlier years – showing off your new sports car or your fabulous new girlfriend/boyfriend (or both) to your deliberately-made-jealous co-workers. Bucket-listing and all that this-is-me-at-Machu-Picchu-which-I-had-always-wanted-to-visit-before-I-die blah will not pack social heat any more. Once will just not be enough. Telomerase will be the new adrenaline.
It seems an obvious thing to say. But truly we now have the most educated generation of over-60s since the start of the Enlightenment. A third of over-65 Americans are now educated to Bachelor Degree standard; the new entrants to this age segment, pace Rick Santorum, will have even better polished marbles. This redirects the narrative of age so much.
Across the West, for instance, grey folk stand ready to appreciate the knowledge that 50% of cancer sufferers will now (mutatis mutandis) survive for at least a decade and will want to learn ever more assiduously about how to prevent such threats to their genes / how to manage their lives if an unhappy diagnosis ever comes along. Fatalism is dying; Que Sera Sera is never going to be a revived-45. Millions are learning about their own individual propensities towards disease or decline. The quantified self grows greyer and balder by the day. Longevity gets personal. Doctor – can you please re-set my genes?
As Loud As Feminism? Really?
Soon new voices will be heard, the voices of fresh role models for a very 21st century Third Age, clamouring for the right not to be interrupted in any way in the pursuit of eight decades, at least, of a full throbbing life. Let’s watch for them and name them when they come.
For age – well, it all stops being any kind of programmed surrender or automated dilapidation. As Marc Augé puts it : Everyone dies young.
Do the RFs just want more free time to spend at will?
No. Emphatically not. They just want you to get out of their way.
RF R US.