This year, for the first time ever, the U.S. has more people over 60 than under 18. That milestone has brought with it little celebration. Indeed, there are abundant concerns that America will soon be awash in a gray wave, spelling increased health care costs for an aging population, greater housing and transportation needs, and fewer young workers contributing to Social Security. Some fear a generational conflict over shrinking resources, a looming tension between kids and “canes.”
As I recount in my new book, How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, when younger and older connect, the intergenerational relationships built are a route to success in early life and a key to happiness and well-being in our later years.
The benefits of intergenerational connections.
In the 1980s, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America served 70,000 children in the U.S., but 30,000 more were languishing on the waiting list for an average of 18 months. Our research team was able to take 1,000 kids on the waiting list and randomly assign mentors to half. The other half were promised mentors at the end of 18 months, the period they would have waited anyway. But first, during that year and a half, we compared the young people who had mentors with the young people who didn’t have them.
The contrast was staggering. There was a 46 percent difference in drug use, a 50 percent difference in school truancy, and a 33 percent difference in violent behavior. The conclusion was inescapable: Relationships with adults matter in young people’s lives.
But what do older adults gain from relationships with young people? One powerful answer comes from the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which began tracking more than 700 men in 1938 and continues to this day. Of the study’s findings, one towers above all others: Relationships are the critical ingredient in well-being, particularly as we age.
Whatever you do, do it with love. Planting, tending, and bequeathing to the next generation is the essential human project, one we’ve long understood yet let slip over the past half-century. Our task is not to try to be young, but to be there for those who actually are. Embracing this may be the only way we can survive as a more-old-than-young society and bring happiness and fulfillment to all.
To read more of Marc Freedman's article, syndicated from Yes Magazine, please click here.