Split Vision on Aging in the New York Times

Photo of Shirley Freitag by Nathan Bajar, New York Times

Last week, the New York Times offered two starkly opposing visions of aging in America.  The optimistic one, which appeared in the “Style” section, celebrated well off older women who had the resources to take excellent care of themselves.  Called “Vanity is not a cardinal sin,” it tracked women in upscale retirement homes who were still interested in looking good.  “Armed with robust confidence and, often, a bank account to match, they work out, practice warrior yoga poses, paint balayage [free hand] streaks into their hair, shop and dress with an undiminished purpose and pride,” writes Ruth la Perla.  A main character in the story, Shirley Freitag, was planning to move into a new assisted living facility where prices started at $13,000 a month.

Photo of Gretchen Harris by Brett Deering, New York Times

In the “Science” section the same week was an article with a much less upbeat title and message:  “Many Americans will need long term care–Most won’t be able to afford it.” The author, Paula Spann, tells the story of Gretchen Harris, a retired attorney in Norman, Oklahoma.  Although she worked all her life, divorce and health problems put a damper on her savings.  Her retirement earnings, some $4600 a month, are barely enough to pay for assisted living facility in her town, and prices rise every year.  Selling her mortgaged house would not bring in enough to bolster her meager savings. She knows she will need some help in the future, but doesn’t know how she could possibly pay for it.  It’s a dilemma facing a huge number of older Americans.

I see this bifurcated vision on aging everywhere.  On the one side are the optimists who see positive changes in the lives of older people today. Improvements in health care, expanding technologies, and increased knowledge about the importance of exercise and engagement have made the lives of many elderly people more vibrant. On the other hand, the pessimists remind us that this bright new world of aging is dependent on good incomes, good access to health care, and a good deal of luck in life.

The vast majority of elderly Americans live in fear of their future.  Let’s not let good news overshadow that fact.

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6 Responses to Split Vision on Aging in the New York Times

  1. JS says:

    The New York Times seems to have split vision on many issues. Consider the recent article on the people living in “vertical suburbs” in Manhattan; fancy, hermetically sealed glass towers with luxury amenities like dog portraits, on the same home page as the latest article about the student loan crisis. (It’s not often mentioned, but some older people also have student loans they can’t repay either.)

    But these two conflicting visions of aging are another aspect of the problem.

    I wish you had Twitter button so I could share this. If I simply copy the URL the formatting isn’t appealing.

  2. Isaboe Renoir says:

    If you’re looking for bifurcated views, just read AARP; one page talks about health care and housing costs as unaffordable for most seniors, and “we’re trying to do something about it”, the next page is about vacations, hobbies and lifestyles that I can’t afford right now while I’m working…. I mostly got the subscription to look for ways to help an elderly Aunt who lives on a few hundred dollars a month – the only advice I’ve found in it’s pages so far are “retire wealthily or be damned…” I’m getting sick of reading it.

  3. Kai Jones says:

    The NYT is, inadvertently I believe, helping stoke the fires of revolution with its keen depictions of the dichotomy between the “got mine” set and the ones they got it from.

  4. I love all the comments here. I’ve often noticed the same incongruence too. It’s really too bad that Corporate America did away with pensions for deserving workers who built their worlds around the employers they served. I believe Corporate America should get out of offering health care and get back to offering pensions. Social Security income is a joke. That is if private health insurance ever becomes affordable again. The responsibility is now on the individual to save everything they can and start early. Hard for most when salaries are stagnant. The 1% blithely carries on. Let them eat cake!

  5. Susan says:

    Well said — we visited retirement homes and assisted living facilities just to get an idea of what was affordable in our future — and most predicted a minimum increase in costs of 3.5% every year, with some predicting 6 %. That’s not including the cost of extra services which most people need in their 80s or 90s.

  6. Robert says:

    It’s not for nothing that the NYT Style section is lampooned as the Having section.

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