Social commentators Patricia and Don Edgar’s new book Peak: Reinventing Middle Age* looks at the way life has changed for those in the 50-75 years age group.
What motivated you to write Peak: Reinventing Middle age?
After the publication of In Praise of Ageing, which was about 90-year-olds and what led to people living long, successful lives, we found that the question people asked most at public talks was, “What do we do with the extra years medical science has given us?”
This led to the idea for the new book, looking at what was needed to plan to structure a 100-year life. It was collaboration. We wrote five case studies each and shared the writing of section one on the overall issues about the need to reinvent middle age.
In the Bible we read of life being three score years and 10 (70)—has this idea been supplanted?
Indeed it has. A 100-year life will be common place by mid-century. By 2050, 20% of the world’s population will be over 60. By 2100 there will be more people aged 100 than babies born each year.
Why do you think middle age is now a quite different concept than it was 50 years ago?
Because 50 will be a mid-point, not the beginning of the end. Those in that age group are not irrelevant, miserable, useless oldies who should get out of the way and while away their years in retirement.
They are the fittest, best educated group in history and most of them are active contributors to their families, the community and our economy.
At 50 we are at our most productive at the peak of our lives—we have a better education than any previous generation, valuable work experience, skills and wisdom, perspective, and know-how valid in the technological age. We have emotional intelligence derived from long social expe- rience, understand relationships and, as middle-agers, are more reliable and more responsible than we were when younger.
Most of us have housing security and accumulated wealth as productive work- ers and consumers, and we are a massive resource begging to be harnessed. In Australia, we number seven million and we vote.
Has society evolved to recognise this yet, with employment and usefulness of those over 50?
No. Business leaders and in particular HR managers still assume someone over 50 is out of touch, too old to learn and should make way for the young. None of the evidence on workplace productivity and reliability supports that idea.
Workplaces are too rigid, not allowing part-week or part-year work, or a phased ‘retirement’ for those in middle age who have multiple family responsibilities (the ‘sandwich generation’) or who simply want to work less intensely but do want (and need) to remain employed. The need is for constant renewal, engage- ment, reinvention and we have to invent new ways to use such experienced workers as mentors, assistant teachers and learning guides. They are a huge resource, too valuable to be put on the scrap heap. The value of volunteering and community work to the whole economy has to be better recognised as well.
What have been your most significant achievements over the years?
Don: In general terms, being able to continue making a useful contribution to society. In particular, trying to ensure, through quality research on family life, early childhood and the work-family balance, that governments and other service providers base their policies and practice on reliable information.
Patricia: Bringing up a family and seeing them regularly, working together, taking on challenges, enjoying work and contributing to others and to society.
What personal goals do you both have for the next stage of your lives?
Patricia: Keeping fit, keeping active and engaged with interests and keeping up contacts with friends and family. It is important to have friends across the age groups.
Don: To stay well, spend lots of time with family and friends, and to keep on writing and contributing. Patricia and I are both ambassadors for NARI, the National Age- ing Research Institute, and run ‘big ideas’ forums for University College each year. Seeing our grandchildren grow up and in- vent their own lives is an ongoing pleasure.
*Published by textpublishing.com.au