Nov 08, 2018
Do You Live in an Age Bubble?
By Margaret Franckhauser, MS, MPH President and CEO, NextFifty Initiative
America, like most western cultures, is increasingly divided into groups. Early in our lives, we are sorted by age. We go to school in age cohorts and there we form strong bonds. Outside family, our social events are populated by people very much like us in age – sports events, concerts, movies, clubs, church groups. Clothing, entertainment and other products are targeted to age-specific markets.
It’s no surprise then that as we move away from our families, we feel most at ease with people of our own age group. We share the same historical experiences, the same trends, the same entertainment interests. We begin to build an age bubble, and we often stay there – feeling comfortable within the group and increasingly wary of the people outside. We’ve even given those bubbles names: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials, Gen Z. If you are wondering if you are in an age bubble, take this revealing quiz from Gen2Gen.
Is an age bubble good for us? Evidence says no, not at all. When generations isolate within a bubble, they understand less about others and may even come to fear them. They fail to share ideas, energy, wisdom and beliefs. They may feel lonely and unsupported because support is sparse within the bubble.
But when generations come together, everybody wins. Research shows that youth benefit from relationships with older adults. They are shown more patience and understanding than their young counterparts can supply. Older adults who cultivate relationships with young people boost the young person’s self-esteem and social skills. The relationship allows the young person to feel valued and reduces their fear of growing older. In turn, older adults benefit from the socialization and energy of young people. Studies show that older people who engage with youth reduce their risk of depression, improve their quality of life, enhance their self-esteem and boost their interest in new ideas.
In a society increasingly divided by age, what can we do to step out of the age bubble? Older adults can volunteer to be mentors, tutors and coaches to youth. The needs are immense and organizations exist to support training and matching. We can take classes likely to appeal to a broad age range. Both groups can stop to talk in the neighborhood, share chores and create opportunities for natural engagement related to shared neighborhood interests. We can all work together on political and social campaigns and choose to create and work in mixed age groups. If we belong to clubs, we can invite other generations to be speakers, to join, to engage. Be intentional.
We have to do a little work to exit an age bubble. When I first joined an exercise club in my young neighborhood in Denver, most people looked at me as though I was lost. What was I doing there at my age? But, I kept going. I talked to people around the gym and came to feel at ease. So did they. I have noticed that the staff in particular are very open to talking to me now, sometimes sharing their personal difficulties. Maybe they don’t have to pretend to be perfect with me because of my age. Whatever the reason, I feel comfortable asking them how to use a machine, what a particular class is like, how to navigate the streets of Denver. Because we share ideas with each other, I always come out energized.
Funding solutions that promote healthier, happier lives for generations to come.Learn More