Eat your shrooms, count the years
(No. 56) The twisty statistics of aging in America, by Stephen P. Williams
Make certain the wild mushrooms you gather are edible. Photo by Andrew Ridley on Unsplash
Mushroom omelette, tart, pasta, hors d'oeuvres, salad, soup, psychedelic, life
A recent Penn State survey of the relationship between diet and cancer found that people who eat a quarter cup of mushrooms a day reduce their cancer risk by 45 percent. Too easy to be true? Probably. But the connection is hard to deny, and mushrooms are easy on the tastebuds.
The grey before the dawn
I’ve always thought of the United States as a youthful country, but now I realize that’s a wishful, emotional take that’s not supported by facts. Despite our pop songs, Pop Tarts and pop ups, we are getting older. In 2010, half of Americans were under age 37. By 2019, the median age had risen to age 38. The pandemic has exasperated that trend.
At the same time that the median age is rising, the average lifespan is getting shorter. These disparate, seemingly contradictory stats can, of course, be blamed on The Boomers, who were born in huge numbers following WWII.
Before 2020, the average American lifespan increased by a month or so a year. In 2019 the average was 78.9 years, overall, with many variations according to gender and ethnic or racial or income group. In the first half of 2020, thanks to deaths from COVID-19 and potentially related causes such as suicide and drug overdoses, our lifespans dropped by one full year to 77.8 years. This trend was not duplicated in other supposedly developed countries.
The average lifespan is inconsistent across racial, ethnic and other categories. White Americans’ average dropped by 1.4 years between 2018 and mid-2020. The lifespan of Hispanic American’s dropped by 3.8 years. The lifespan of Black Americans decreased by 3.2 years.
It’s been nearly a century since there were similar drops in average longevity.
Looking towards the youthful future. Photo by Jack Sloop on Unsplash
Yet another set of statistics is also illuminating, and perhaps confusing. According to a Pew Research analysis of census data, In total, across all racial categories, there were more 27-year-olds in the US than any other age. Yet the average age of white Americans was 58. And since there are so many aged white baby boomers in the country, their collective age skews the impact of the younger folks. The most common age for Hispanics was 11, for Blacks, 27, and for Asians, 29. For Americans of mixed race, the average age was just 3 years old. But among all racial groups, including the legion of boomers, the figure was 27. This is an interesting metaphor for the distribution of power in this country.
Ok, see ya
Of course, this is a temporary state of affairs. The majority, white, older population is on the cusp of death, to put it diplomatically. When the boomers move on to that great SUV/powerboat/golfcourse/cablenewsnetwork/IRA in the sky, the face and age of the United States will change dramatically.
I think this information is mostly unspoken and unacknowledged right now. Yet I also believe it is deep within our collective unconscious and that a lot of the tensions, innovations, protests and anxieties the country is experiencing now are due to our inner awareness of the changes taking place. As we age, we change. As our country ages, the country changes.
And for all my readers in other countries (shout out to Australia!), please forgive the limited worldview in this story. But I’m sure much of the info also applies to your community.
"He not busy being born is busy dying,"— from It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), by Bob Dylan, 1964. Photo by Weston MacKinnon on Unsplash
In the meantime, until the country starts getting younger, it’s going to keep getting older. (That is not a Bob Dylan lyric.) This will have a significant impact on health care and social security costs, interior design, transportation, entertainment and much more.
Curiously, an equation called the support ratio -- the number of working adults per child, and per older person --- is shifting dramatically. In 1960, there were 6 working age adults for every person age 65 and older. That ratio now is about 2.4. There’s more need for care, social security and other services for older Americans, but fewer people to provide it. Likewise, the ratio of working adults to children has risen from 1.5 in 1960 to 2.6 now, which has implications for the number of children needing childcare, and other services. The government and society will have to make hard choices between supporting older adults and younger adults. Or maybe we can choose to help both.
Trigger warning: Rodney Dangerfield was an insensitive and hilarious lout.
News to consider
According to a study in Public Policy & Aging Report, “We are witnessing a time of profound change in the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) older adults in this country.”
Many Americans of all ages find themselves with few people they trust. The pandemic has heightened the need people have for good relationships, and the suffering they experience when they feel alone. Remember your friends as you (and they) age.
I struggle to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night; more often than not I fail. It’s not for lack of desire. This article gives me more urgency (which I hope doesn’t make me wake up early again tomorrow).
Selfie by self
Thank you for reading this far. I enjoy sharing thoughts and info about aging. Let me know if there are any topics you’d like to learn more about. firstname.lastname@example.org