The ‘new young old’
In its July 8 issue, the Economist asks in its editorial titled “Over 65 shades of gray,” “What do you call someone who is over 65 but not yet elderly? This stage of life, between work and decrepitude, lacks a name.”
Belonging to the category of Baby Boomers who have retired only in the past five years or so, I ponder this question as I look at my contemporaries who, though officially “retired,” remain vigorous, energetic and ready to take on the world.
My batchmates from my alma mater have styled themselves into a group called ADMU616569 to indicate the years they graduated from grade school, high school and college. They travel the world in smaller groups to explore or meet for reunions in Manila, Washington, D.C., Australia or Spain; sponsor Gawad Kalinga construction projects and feeding programs; and contribute for the more needful among our ailing classmates.
The majority lovingly take care of grandchildren, who are likely to be located in the US or other countries, to which their children have migrated.
Retirement used to mean withdrawal from the world after having lived a “useful” life. I myself never met both my grandfathers since, partly because of World War II, they both passed away in their 50s. One stay-at-home grandmother had seemed to me already graying and aged (although only in her 50s) as she stayed home cooking, sewing and seeing to household order.
The other grandmother was a college professor who combined her teaching career with hobbies like raising cacti, fish in aquariums and exotic plants; carrying on with the recipes of her French mestiza mother; acquainting her grandchildren with family history. However, though she remained mobile into her late 80s, she also chose to stay home once she retired at 65.
My own mother was already transitional since, after age 65, she continued with teaching Speech in a seminary to would-be priests. She said it was her contribution to nonboring sermons for parishioners on Sundays. Though she also doted on her grandchildren, she made it clear that while they were welcome for visits and playtime in our garden, it was also their parents’ duty to take care of them at all times. Her grandkids were already half-grown when she chose to stay for longer visits in their households abroad.
We are now at a generation when the grandchildren teach their elders the art of managing cell phones, tablets and computers, and where parents and children treat each other as equals. The use of ho and po has become extinct in many households, corporal punishment is a thing of the past, and grandparents are as likely as their apo to practice Zumba, stationary biking and jogging.
The Philippines is, indeed, one of the most senior-friendly countries in the world, where the the senior citizen card is almost as valuable as a credit card. There are people who can hardly wait to reach that age, if only to get the 10-20 percent discount for meals, medicines and selected commodities. In some cities, one is even entitled to free movies on certain days and a cake with greetings on one’s birthday. These policies reflect the age-old respect of Filipinos for elders, and explain the acumen of Filipinos as caregivers for young and old.
Yet, though there is already a growing body of “the new young old” among the Filipino population, we also lack a term for this new category. It is hard to imagine that the invented term “teenager” dates back only four decades, and the idea of a “child” was only seriously pursued in the 19th century. Once these terms were defined, both the government and the private sector were able to develop policies and even industries that catered to children and teeny-boppers.
What makes the present generation the “new young old” different from their lolo and lola is not only their longevity, but also the longer period of good health they enjoy due to medication as well as medical intervention. It is no longer a surprise to hear that one’s friend or colleague received a heart bypass or a stent, had a hip or knee replacement, or is on some kind of maintenance drug for hypertension, diabetes, gout or arthritis.
Not within easy reach
The sobering news is that nearly 10 percent of ADMU616569 has already passed on, possibly before all the new medical innovations were discovered.
It is discouraging to know that longevity and good health are not within easy reach of most Filipinos. With our bahala na attitude, we do not plan for old age. Unlike the Germans, Chinese or Japanese, Filipinos have one of the lowest savings rates in the world. With such low interest rates for bank accounts, they are hardly encouraged to save and most of them would not have basic knowledge of what stocks or bonds to invest in.
Some wake up upon reaching 65 to learn that what they have been paying for social security is not enough to support them. Many are forced to rely on their children or to continue working at odd jobs to support themselves. Having an overseas Filipino worker child is another kind of insurance for “the new young old,” who may be the caregivers of their grandchildren in exchange.
A serious issue that should be confronted in the Philippines is the lack of adequate medical coverage and insurance that all seniors, regardless of age, can avail themselves of. Nearly all insurance companies routinely deny coverage to seniors with preexisting conditions. Even the “new young old” are likely to find that they have to rely on their own resources, since Philhealth policies will not be enough to protect and save them in an emergency.
It is clear that not only does a new term have to be discovered for the “new young old,” but also new policies and legislation have to be developed to make use of their experience and skills. Developed countries promote policies of nondiscrimination when it comes to age. In Japan, complementary jobs have been found for retirees which take advantage of their knowledge.
It may very well be now in the Philippines (as it is common in the United States) that your friendly Uber or Grab driver was once a professional like you. Unless you are a lawyer or a doctor who can practice to the very end, you would probably have to find a niche as a consultant, or adopt a second profession like real estate or farming on a small scale. You might even choose to develop new skills, such as being more computer-savvy or providing financial or lifestyle advice to young ones.
What the “new young old” in the Philippines has not yet discovered is the power to lobby either government or the economic sector. There is no equivalent in the Philippines of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which effectively lobbies for legislation to represent them. In searching for a name and a category, it would be a sage move for the “new young old” to define their role in the 21st century.
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