It’s bad enough having to move up a box every ten years or so, but I truly dread the day I’ll have to tick the final one when asked my voting intention, entertainment preference or steps taken per week.
What must it be like ticking the last box? The one where there’s nothing to the right. The one whose + screams ‘everything from here is a bonus’. The one that indicates your age is so high that nuances no longer matter. Now you belong with the geriatrics.
Statisticians use demographics when analysing data on everything from TV ratings and political opinion to future need for hospital beds. A central variable in such analysis is age. Or rather age group.
Depending on the organisation and the issue at hand, the first group will tend to be the 18-24 year olds. This category is followed by age groups mostly divided in ranges of nine years (25-34, 35-44 and so). But the final group has only one number followed by a ‘+’. (Most often, this is 65+ although there are examples of 55+ and 70+). It couldn’t be any other way – unlike the beginning, which always starts at zero, we don’t know the end date. And yet, there’s something disheartening about that last box.
The only good news is that whereas we’re stuck with the +, we may have to increase the number.
At present, one fifth of EU citizens are above the age of 65, but according to recent projections that figure will have gone up to one third by 2080. This constitutes a complete change of the demographic situation and since it’s already questionable whether those in their sixties should be in the same category as those aged, say, 85 and upwards, it increases the need for additional boxes. After all, the 65+ group contains two generations whose life experiences have been very different.
The argument for lumbering them in together would be that they are ‘not of working age’, an important parameter in social research. However, this may be the only thing many of them have in common. It is also likely to change. People are living longer and our societies will not be able to sustain retirement periods of 25-30 years for such large propertions of the population. Furthermore, many prefer to remain in the work force for much longer than until their 65th year.
We’re going to need more boxes.