Justice between Generations: The Growing Power of the Elderly in America

Justice between Generations: The Growing Power of the Elderly in America

Justice between Generations: The Growing Power of the Elderly in America

Justice between Generations: The Growing Power of the Elderly in America


With the transformation of the elderly into a major political force in American politics, older Americans have used their increasing numbers and political power to capture a growing and disproportionate share of public resources. This book explores their emergence from obscurity to political preeminence and considers the effect of their power on other members of society. It traces the shift in public attitude from the 18th century to the early 20th century, when the elderly population increased and needed an economic safety net. It then focuses on the elderly's growing power in the late 20th century and examines how they are receiving an expanding share of the budget for such programs as Social Security and Medicare at the expense of such groups as children in poverty.


Being old in America has meant different things at different times, but today it means wealth and power. This shift reflects one of the most dramatic demographic transitions in human history: in the span of a few generations, "oldness" itself has undergone a transformation that exceeds in scope the changes affecting aging during all the preceding generations of American history.

Qualitatively and quantitatively, the nature of "old age" has been tranformed beyond recognition. People now live longer into their "golden years." Much longer. and they live better as well.

What has produced this demographic revolution? Several factors have been crucial. Technological developments have meant that most people will live longer, and have dramatically improved the quality of life for those that do. a half-century of economic expansion, as well as a number of public policies adopted during that period, have greatly increased the personal wealth of the average older citizen. Just as important, greater access to medical care has enabled the vast majority of older Americans to benefit from medical breakthroughs that otherwise would have been prohibitively expensive. Society now pays for what the elderly citizen alone would be unable to afford.

Things change. Being 70 years old at the end of the twentieth century means that an individual enjoys prospects for good health, a comfortable retirement income, and the actuarial probability of a number of fruitful years ahead. Such an individual may not consider himself or herself "old" at all, and may not be considered old in the terms of the surrounding culture. We frequently hear people of that age refer to themselves as "70 years young."

In 1790, when the first national census was taken, fewer than 20% of the population lived to age 70. "Retirement," moreover, did not exist then: men worked until their bodies were no longer physically able, and went through life fearing for their economic welfare should that day come. in this respect, the . . .

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