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The “graying” of the United States refers to the rather rapid growth of the elderly sector (aged 65 years and older) of the population. As early as the mid-1990s, this sector was already estimated at 13% of the country’s population. It is expected to reach approximately 20% by 2050. The elderly sector could be broken up into two groups. The first group is composed of those who are aged sixty-five up to seventy-five years and who are, by and large, able to care for themselves even for their economic needs. The second group consists of those who are over seventy-five years old. These people are considered greatly dependent on others both physically and financially. Researchers attributed this growth to the fact that life expectancy has gone up by about 30 years due to medical advances - meaning that women born during the 20th century are expected to live up to 79 years of age while men should reach 73 years (Macionis, 1995). Another reason cited by researchers is the aging of the baby boomers which is estimated to contribute around 75 million to the elderly population of the country (Libow, 2005).
This increase in longevity has both positive and negative effects on Americans. On one hand, it allows parents and children to spend and enjoy more time with each other, resulting to more significant experiences occurring in the family. On the other hand, care for the elderly means that Americans will not only be drained financially but will also be burdened emotionally. In fact the reason why the elderly has become sort of excluded is because they remind people of their own fears: disease and disability due to old age, aside from the inevitability of death itself (Newman & Smith, 1999).
The elderly is experiencing discrimination simply because of their age. Some sectors of society consider them slow-witted, prone to disease, unemployable, and generally “socially worthless” (Newman & Smith, 1999).
Nevertheless, some sociologists contend that the disadvantages they suffer are only consistent with their status in society and not comparable to those being experienced by the so-called minority groups. For this reason, these sociologists are of the opinion that the elderly sector of society should not be labeled as a minority group (Macionis, 1995).
Libow, L.S. (2005). Geriatrics in the United States – Baby Boomer’s Boon? The New England Journal of Medicine. Retrieved November 13, 2007 from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp048140
Macionis, J.J. (1995). Chapter 15: Aging and the Elderly. Sociology. Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Newman, D. & Smith, R. (1999). The Global Dynamics of Populations: Demographic Trends. Retrieved November 13, 2007 from https://studysites.sagepub.com/newman4study/resources/graying.htm
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