A brief discussion of the change of attitude towards the oldest people in society.
(a little something I forgot I'd written during the first year of my Social Care course)
Many people can remember a childhood in which respect for your elders was something that barely needed mentioning. It was a given, that even if you didn’t like the oldest members of your family or your community, you would at least respect them. This was not simply because your parents reminded you, or for traditional reasons (although they played a part too.) It was a question of value. As recently as the 1980s, most communities still had a good number of elderly people who had lived through WW2. Even if the detail of their experiences was not of interest to some, most younger people felt admiration for that fact alone, and those who didn’t could be shamed with the cry “I fought in the war for you, have some respect!”
Those who led less thrilling and dangerous lives still inspired and helped to teach younger generations. Bringing up large families, providing a decent level of nutrition during rationing, learning the intricacies of the family trade, maybe travelling the world, were experiences that could be drawn upon to advise the younger generations. Even something as simple as being the custodian of family recipes (or keeping the secrets to themselves and serving the finished product) added more value to members of the older generation in the eyes of the younger.
Even further back, grandparents were rare. Survival to childbearing age was celebrated, and to stay alive long enough to see your grandchildren grow up you would have had to possess considerable survival abilities. Village elders were revered and respected simply for getting to that age.
For generations, the percentage of people aged 65 or above in the UK (and in many places worldwide) has been growing. They now make up 16% of the population; by 2033 they are expected to reach 23%. The old and wise are not as rare as they were, one reason that they are less valued. Also, their wide range of experiences, once a goldmine for the young, are less relevant than they were. Children grow up and travel further from their families than they used to. Convenience foods have led to a decline in home cooking. With the advent of the Information Age, personal or business advice, or any life lesson, can be had from the internet, a hired expert, or one’s peers. The questions and difficulties of the modern youth or adult can be more conveniently and competently answered from other sources than their “olds”.