For much of the twentieth century, parts of our world still seemed vast and unknowable-despite post-industrial innovation. But new technology gave rise to leaps in communication, expanding our collective national awareness and perspective until we became not national, but global citizens. This twentieth-century technology explosion has also shaped a world that has grown smaller and is now quickly growing older.
Population aging is occurring in every nation worldwide. The U.N. Population Division projects that people older than age 60 will increase from just less than 800 million in 2011 (11 percent of world population) to more than 2 billion in 2050 (22 percent). Reports and news stories alternately express angst and jubilation over such projections. Is world population aging a positive promise-or does it portend peril? The world's nations now have the challenge and the opportunity to unite as an interconnected global community and find out.
This issue of Generations, expertly guided by Guest Editors Frank J. Whittington and Suzanne R. Kunkel, focuses on the demographic, cultural, sociopolitical, and economic impact of world population aging, and the common difficulties it presents to developed and developing nations. These colleagues have collaborated before, co-editing, with Erdman Palmore, The International Handbook on Aging (Praeger, 2009). And they also are at work on a forthcoming textbook on global aging.
Whittington is a professor of gerontology and senior associate dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Previously, he was at Atlanta's Georgia State University, where as a professor of sociology he directed the Gerontology Institute for thirteen years. The author of many books, articles, and chapters on long-term care and health behavior of older people, Whittington's National Institute on Aging (NIA)-funded research on independence, autonomy, and quality of life for assisted living residents was published in Communities of Care: Assisted Living for African American Elders (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).
"My interest in global aging is relatively recent, dating to a 2003 visit to Kenya to help establish a research and educational partnership between Kenyatta University in Nairobi and Georgia State University," says Whittington, who advised Kenyatta faculty on the development of a new master's program in gerontology. He and colleague Sharon King also secured funding for a joint research project focused on improving Kenyan grandparents' well-being and effectiveness in caring for their AIDS-orphaned grandchildren. For a co-authored article about that work, King, Whittington, and their colleagues received the 2007 David Peterson Award from the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.
In Kenya, Whittington began to appreciate the determined intention of scholars in remote, under-resourced locations to study aging and train gerontology students. "My Kenyan colleagues understood the need to prepare their [country's] service workforce for an aging population, and to convey an appreciation to students of elders' positive role in society to combat negative stereotypes," he says.
Kunkel is director of Miami University's Scripps Gerontology Center in Oxford, Ohio, and a professor in the University's Department of Sociology and Gerontology. Interested first in demography, Kunkel's study of population aging and its impact on long-term care needs now also observes the impact of rapid aging on developing countries. …