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The Upside of Aging: How Long Life Is Changing the World of Health, Work, Innovation, Policy and Purpose by Paul Irving

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Chapter 1 Our Aging Population—It May Just Save Us All

Laura L. Carstensen

Director, Stanford Center on Longevity; Professor of Psychology and Fairleigh S. Dickinson Jr. Professor in Public Policy, Stanford University

For the first time ever, a growing resource populates the world—millions of mature people. They are better educated and healthier than prior generations of older people, motivated to make a difference, and knowledgeable and emotionally stable enough to do so.

Emotional stability improves with age. Knowledge grows. Expertise deepens. The brain actually improves in many ways. I was making this case to my dad a while back, about the many positive changes that accompany advanced age, changes that go widely unrecognized in a society centered around the glories of youth. Given the typical characteristics of aging, I said, the presence of millions of older citizens could improve the world significantly.

Not that I needed to convince my father of any of this. He was 92 at the time. His reaction: “Maybe we need to stop talking only about how to save the old folks, and start talking about how they may save us all.”

What my father knew, and I also had learned, was that aging has an upside, and that the current aging demographic has much to offer society. For the first time ever, a growing resource populates the world—millions of mature people. They are better educated and healthier than prior generations of older people, motivated to make a difference and knowledgeable ...

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