Origins Podcast
10:35 am
Tue January 15, 2013

Should Age Matter? How 65 Came to Be Old and Old Came to Be Ill

In 1942, when this photograph of an elderly Mennonite couple was shot in Pennsylvania, science and medicine were transforming the idea of old age by extending life expectancies and curing chronic disease.
Credit U.S. government photographer Marjory Collins
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Baby boomers, 78 million strong, are turning 65 at a rate of 4 million per year. The press, the government, and the medical community claim, often and loudly, that these numbers augur a mass dependency crisis. Such spokesmen envision a world of decrepit elders afflicted with chronic disease slurping their way through the country’s resources. This month historian Tamara Mann explores how, in the United States, the so-called “geriatric crisis” is less related to age itself than to the relationship between old age and government funds, particularly Medicare. She explains how 65 became a federal marker of old age and why health insurance came to be offered as the best solution to the problems afflicting America’s elders.

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