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Developmental Psychology and Gerontology as Research Areas:
Prolongued lifespan and a new living world

Margret M. Baltes (1999, excerpt)

Why has age and aging occupied us ever increasingly for the past 20 years?

We have been dealing with age and aging because the demographic change that comes along with the prolongation of the lifespan forces us to do so. It forces us as society because the current structures do not live up to this change and to the new functional status of the active older people. It forces every single one of us because in this century we are able to live and plan our life for and in old age proactively for the first time in human history. We are occupied more and more with age and aging because it is a new phenomenon that only emerged in this magnitude in the 20th century. Becoming old has now almost become a common good. This is a radically new world to live in. As it is so new, we do not need to get defensive for not having solutions ready yet. But it is no excuse either not to start searching for them right here and now. We have to acknowledge, too, that this new situation with its new challenges causes anxieties. But we also deal with old age because we want to master it, because we want to age better than out parents and perhaps because we hope to overcome aging.

Longevity and its social, economic, psychological and spiritual implications have become a key policy issue. I hope that the public debate will not evoke distribution struggles, belittle or threaten to embark upon them but that the citizens together, all age groups, look for solutions in a solidly united way. Today’s older people are yesterday’s youngsters, and today’s young generation will be the old one tomorrow. They, the future elder, must be enabled to come to the road’s end in a decent and meaningful way. And they can be enabled best by having the current old people finding and preparing the path. A Chinese saying goes: Today’s generation build the roads on which the next ones travel. My words are borne by optimism despite the fact that it is not the third, the “silver” age that leads to the finish of the marathon of life. In the very old age the imperfection of life is most pronounced. Here science must intensify its efforts, and it is mandatory to call for such a research priority. I myself have been very engaged in this respect and I hope that our society comes to appreciate the benefits of profound aging research for all of us.