A new vision for living and ageing in America


I first stepped onto the stage at AARP’s Ideas@50+ national member event in San Diego in September 2014 to deliver a keynote address urging the 8,000 attendees to disrupt ageing. Since then, the response has been overwhelming. It turns out that this is a message that people aged 50 and over have been waiting to hear. People across the country, from all walks of life, have been sharing their experiences with me and telling me that although they don’t want to age the same way their parents did, they aren’t sure what to do about it. They are anxious to change the conversation in our society, and in some cases, to start having the conversation. They want more choices for how to live when they get older. They want new and better solutions to help them age with independence, dignity and purpose. They are ready to chart a new course. So am I.

I wrote this book to provide a pathway for those who are 50 and over and to create a new vision for all generations for living and ageing in America. I can no more identify with my parents’ experience of ageing than my own kids can identify with mine. It’s just different. Sometimes I play this little game when I hit certain milestones in my life–like birthdays, sending my kids off to college, attending their graduations, etc–I think back and try to remember my parents as they experienced those same milestones. What was my mom like when she was 57? What were my parents doing when I graduated from college? How did they view their lives at various milestones along the way? It can be a real eye opener and really makes me realise how much things have changed from their generation to mine.

The way we are ageing today is dramatically different from how it was a generation, even a decade ago. Yes, we are living longer and in better health, but it’s much more than that. We haven’t just added more years to the end of life, we’ve extended middle age and, in essence, created a new life stage that has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for how we live and age. And, we’re just beginning to understand the full range and depth of those possibilities.

Yet, most conversations around ageing still view it as a problem to be solved. It’s a premise that is absolutely and fundamentally wrong, and millions of people are proving it wrong every day. The conversation can’t be about how to avoid a crisis, it needs to be about how to take advantage of the opportunities we have so we individually and as a nation can thrive.

Our culture, institutions, social supports and infrastructure have not kept up with the advancements in the way we age that science, technology and innovation have made and continue to make possible. That’s what the conversation is about. We need to get rid of the outdated beliefs and stereotypes about ageing and spur new solutions so more of us can choose how we want to age. That means replacing old models that don’t work with new ones that do and updating those that do work so they continue to work in the future. That’s what disrupting ageing is all about.

Ageing’s four freedoms

On 6 January 1941, the eve of the United States’ entry into Second World War, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt argued for an end to the isolationist policies that grew out of First World War and offered a new ideology based on four freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. In much the same way that Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms inspired America to wake up and realise what was happening in the world and to act, I have identified the Four Freedoms of Ageing that will define a new vision for living and ageing in America and inspire us to disrupt ageing, making that vision a reality.

Freedom to choose how and where you want to live as you age. 
When it comes to ageing, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. If you want to follow a traditional path to retirement, you should be able to do that. If you want an active, engaged life, you should have options to pursue that as well. It’s all about having options available that allow you to choose how you live and age.

Freedom to earn. 
A key part of the retirement model that most of us have grown up with is freedom from work. Today, a key part of extended middle age is the freedom to work. Many of us want or need to continue earning a living and are searching for ways to make a difference in society through the work we do. This requires reimagining work and breaking down both social and institutional barriers that stand in the way.

Freedom to learn. 
If we want to stay engaged, involved and productive during our extended middle age and beyond, we need to keep learning. But let’s face it, the opportunities for us to keep learning diminish as we get older. In many cases, they’re just not there. As we disrupt ageing, we will break down the barriers and create new opportunities to learn as we get older.

Freedom to pursue happiness by discovering and fulfilling your purpose. 
This is what it’s really all about. Our longer lives give us an extraordinary opportunity to become the people we have always wanted to be. But if we’re going to win at attaining Ageing’s Four Freedoms, we have to work together to create a society where we have access to the care, information and services we need to lead healthier lives with independence and dignity; where we have the financial resources and opportunities to match our longer life spans; and where we are seen as an integral and inspirational asset to society.

Winning these freedoms begins with each of us. We can’t afford to sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to win these freedoms for us; we have to do it for ourselves. It’s time to tell our stories–what we believe and what we can do. So, in conversations with your family and friends, what beliefs will you challenge? We need to change both the culture and the infrastructure of ageing–the systems, programmes, products and services that we encounter every day. In your life and in your work, what solutions will you spark? In everything that you do, think about what new possibilities you can create for yourself and others. What will you do to disrupt ageing?

This is an edited excerpt for the OECD Yearbook 2016 from Jo Ann Jenkins’ forthcoming book (2016), Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age, published by PublicAffairs. 

Visit www.aarp.org

 is a Knowledge Partner of the OECD Forum 2016

©OECD Yearbook 2016

Access to quality jobs for younger and older workers at the OECD Forum 2016

Other OECD Forum 2016 issues

OECD work on ageing and employment policies

OECD work on social and welfare issues

Schurman, Bradley (2015), "Who cares for the caregivers", in OECD Yearbook 2015

OECD Yearbook 2016

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

OECD Observer Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To order your own paper editions,email Observer@OECD.org

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2019