Dilemmas of Justice in an Aging Society:

It’s time to consider the active young-old and the oldest-old

Depending on country, culture, birth cohort, and idiosyncratic factors, the post-retirement period in the 21st century could extend over 20 to 40 years of an individual’s life. Life expectancy after age 65 has increased and increasingly more people survive to the ninth and tenth decade (Crimmins, 2004; Vaupel, 2010).

Contrary to negative age stereotypes, only a minority of seniors are diagnosed with dementia nor are they disabled and fully-dependent on others for assistance in basic activities of daily life (ADLs). Indeed, there is substantial heterogeneity of functioning, health, and life expectancy at all ages (e.g., Lowsky, Olshansky, Bhattacharya, & Goldman, 2014).

Media reports about exceptional long-lived survivors have increased in the last decade. Research, however, typically focuses on the less-desirable outcomes associated with living

a long life, including dementia, morbidity, disability, frailty, and dependence on caregivers. Economists echothis research with warnings about consequences of an impending "epidemic of dementia" on health care costs.

This restricted research scope severely limits our understanding of the heterogeneity of functioning in the population over age 65 and the many different social justice issues associated with old age. A focus shift is needed to instead characterize the subgroups of the older population that do not meet clinical thresholds (e.g., for dementia diagnosis).

This presentation will discuss such a focus shift. I will consider the dilemmas this focus shift exposes for issues of social justice, especially with regard to discrimination, poverty, and social exclusion.

About the referee


Prof. Jacqui Smith, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan and Research Professor in the Survey Research Center and Center for Research on Group Dynamics at the Institute for Social Research (ISR). She is currently the primary investigator on the Experienced Well-Being in the Population over 50 (ROBUST) study and the Harmonization of Survey Assessment of Well-Being study.

In 2007, she joined the NIA-funded Health and Retirement Study (HRS) as co-investigator to examine changes in cognition, well-being, and health in the 50+ population from a lifespan perspective. Prior to moving to the University of Michigan in 2006, she was a Senior Research Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and Professor of Psychology at the Free University Berlin in Germany. From 1990 onwards, she co-directed the Berlin Aging Study, a multidisciplinary longitudinal study of men and women aged 70 to 100.

Her research focuses on experienced wellbeing, psychological vitality in the young-old and oldest-old, lifespan psychosocial predictors of aging well, images of aging, and cognitive aging. She obtained her B.A (Hons.) in Psychology at the University of Sydney and Ph.D. in Psychology at the Macquarie University, Australia. In 1999, she was awarded the Habilitation in Psychology by the Free University, Berlin. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association of Psychological Sciences, the Gerontological Association of America, and the Social and Behavioral Sciences Section of the Academia Europaea.

Prof. Jacqui Smith, Ph.D.