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If we want societies to genuinely cherish and celebrate longevity, more intergenerational understanding is key. For the first time in human history, five different generations are routinely alive at the same time. As more people live to advanced ages, societies around the world are becoming more age diverse; and people have increased opportunities to live and interact with others from a wider range of age groups. This change may be a welcome one, given research suggesting that intergenerational relationships are generally beneficial to overall health, well-being, learning, and productivity. For example, research shows that when older adults help their children and grandchildren, they in turn are less depressed, more engaged, and more physically healthy. Developing social ties with older adults is also good for young people. Adolescents in particular benefit from the mentorship of older adults in terms of mental well-being, high school graduation rates, and positive life outcomes. Many workplaces have become increasingly age diverse, and the intergenerational relationships former there may be good for economies; some research suggests that age-diverse workforces are relatively more innovative and productive. While there is plenty of reason to believe that more generational mixing is a positive trend, however, there are also darker possibilities. Cultural standards for what “age” means to people can actually produce barriers to meaningful connections. Many societies remain structured in ways that make it unlikely for young and old people to come into meaningful contact with one another, whether at school, at work, or at home. This means people rarely make connections in their social networks with others much younger or older than they are, and many maintain relatively ageist beliefs. Some think growing financial inequities between generations will lead to competition for resources and even conflict. If we want to live in a society that genuinely cherishes and celebrates longevity, efforts to actively discourage ageism and encourage intergenerational understanding are necessary. Workplace practices should discourage age discrimination, through such measures as age-blind hiring processes and more structured performance reviews. Political discussions must focus on how to more evenly distribute power and responsibility, rather than viewing things as a zero-sum game between young and old. Harnessing the benefits of age diversity could add a sense of purpose and belonging to century-long lives and could potentially make societies more productive and equitable.

Intergenerational Relationships

KEY TRENDS

Increasing Impact of Ageing