Aging: Canadian Perspectives

Article excerpt

The topics and authors included in this special issue were selected with the conviction that this area of study has much to offer scholars interested in all aspects of the humanities and social sciences. Aging, after all, is one way to consider the experience of living. Moreover, the aging of individuals occurs in social, economic, political and environmental contexts which are changing as well, partly due to another form of aging: demographic or population aging. Consequently, we must study aging individuals in an aging society.

The papers which comprise this volume focus on the demographic aspects of aging and on the impact of population aging on major social institutions and preoccupations such as the community, work, leisure, and the family. This introductory paper links these structural concerns to some issues about the meaning of aging and old age for the aging individual. We begin by examining demographic aspects of aging, the structure of the life course, socio - economic issues, and health issues. We then turn to a consideration of psychosocial concerns associated with aging: dependency and independence, family life, attitudes toward aging, and the association between aging and the anticipation of, and preparation for, death.

Demographic Aspects

Canada is an aging population. At the beginning of this century less than six percent of the Canadian population was aged 65 and older. Today more than ten percent fall into that category, and by 2031 this proportion will rise to almost 25 percent. The proportion that will be old by the decades 2021 and 2031 is now projected to be considerably higher than had been believed 15 or 20 years ago because demographers no longer anticipate large increases in fertility, and because recent decreases in later - life mortality have been significant.

Women live much longer than men. While life expectancy at birth is just 70.2 years for men, it is 77.5 years for women. These life expectancy differences persist at later ages. To illustrate, a man born in 1980 - 82 has an 75 percent chance of living to age 65; but a woman born in that period has an 86 percent chance. At age 65, a man can expect to live an additional 14.6 years, whereas a woman can expect to live an additional 18.9 years. Because women are increasing their advantage in life expectancy over men, the world of the aged is becoming a world dominated by women. This has profound implications for women, who become a majority group, and for men, who become the new minority. This shift in the sex ratio also has a profound impact on younger cohorts of the population in terms of economic support and the care - giving that may be needed, and on such public policy areas as housing, transportation, community support, health promotion and health care.

Another important aspect of the age structure of Canada's population is the changing median age. This is the age at which you would say "half of all Canadians are younger than this age." The current median age of the Canadian population is 30. In 1971 it was just 26.2 years. By the end of this century it is projected that it will rise to 37.2 years; and when, by 2031, all the baby boomers are old, the median age may be as high as 41.6 years. As a larger and larger proportion of our population reaches age 65 and beyond, the overall composition of Canadian society will become, in a way, more "mature."

Another interesting and important trend is that, considered as a population in itself, the group over age 65 is aging. That is, growth in the numbers among the very advanced ages (80+) is happening at a greater rate than among younger old people. This, however, will change after 2010, when the first of the baby boomers start to enter the 65+ category. By 2031, about one in 20 Canadians will be aged 85 or older.(f.1)

The Structure of the Life Course

The "structure of the life course" refers to typical patterns of the ordering and timing of major life events, such as marriage, retirement, the empty nest (when children are likely to have left home), and widowhood. …