Aging in America
Bill Novelli is CEO of AARP, a membership organization of 40 million people age 50 and older, half of whom remain actively employed. AARP’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for all as we age. Prior to joining AARP, Mr. Novelli was President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, whose mandate is to change public policies and the social environment, limit tobacco companies’ marketing and sales practices to children and serve as a counterforce to the tobacco industry and its special interests. He now serves as chairman of the board. He was also Executive Vice President of CARE, the world’s largest private relief and development organization.
Mr. Novelli is a recognized leader in social marketing and social change, and has managed programs in cancer control, diet and nutrition, cardiovascular health, reproductive health, infant survival, pay increases for educators, charitable giving and other programs in the U.S. and the developing world. His book, 50+: Give Meaning and Purpose to the Best Time of Your Life, was updated in 2008. Mr. Novelli serves on a number of boards and advisory committees. He holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. from Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication, and pursued doctoral studies at New York University.
Question: How are the interests of seniors different?
Bill Novelli: That’s a great question. You know when you look at the research, what it suggests is that . . . that there are some differences in terms of age segments. There are differences in how people use technology. There’s certain differences in terms of what people want. But when you get a little bit lower than that – when you get down to needs, the needs are very similar. And then when you get down to values, what you find is that the generations are really closely connected in our country. This is a powerful force. And so grandparents really care about their grandchildren. They care about their children and vice versa. The grandchildren today . . . young people today care about their parents and their grandparents. So you have this real cohesiveness – this connectedness. And so from our standpoint we try to think that way. We try to think inter-generationally. So just to give you an example right now, we’re working very hard at AARP to try to get the state children’s health insurance program reauthorized and expanded. Now why do we want to do that? We want to do that because those are our grandchildren, and because children are the future of the country. So that interconnectedness is very strong and very important.
Question: How old is “old” these days?
Bill Novelli: Well it’s changing quite rapidly. And the reason for this is as boomers age, and as people in their 60s and 70s age, they tend to be healthier and better educated than previous generations. And so you have people living longer, and you have this huge cohort of boomers – 78 million baby boomers – coming into their older years. So what all this adds up to is that our society is aging. And as far as how old is “old”, nobody really knows. You know there’s a . . . there’s a line that says basically, “Old is 10 years older than I am.”
Question: What are the most pressing issues for AARP’s 35 million members?
Bill Novelli: The pressing issue for us today is to try to get healthcare fixed, because what’s happening is more and more people are unable to afford healthcare insurance even if their employer offers it to them. More and more employers are changing or losing jobs. And when they do that they can’t take their insurance with them. They’re worried about their children. They’re worried about so many aspects of healthcare. So many bankruptcies in this country are due to health costs. And right now about two-thirds of all adults in this country think that the coming generation is going to be worse off than their parents. And if that happened, it would be the first time in American history. And a major reason for that is healthcare, and also financial security – not being able to save enough for retirement; pensions going south; trying to care for aging parents and having kids at home; and not being able really to draw . . . to save at work. So these are the issues that are at the top of the agenda for us.
Question: Do the young have a responsibility to the old?
Bill Novelli: I think the young have a responsibility to the old. And very definitely older people have a responsibility to the young. There’s no question. Every generation has to be responsible to the other. That’s what . . . that’s what society is built upon. And you know there was a congressman who came to the AARP Board one day, and he said, “You know that young people have to pay for older people to receive Social Security. And I’m gonna go out and talk to youngpeople, and I’m going to make them madder than hell about this.” And of course there is no intergenerational warfare in this country. He was . . . he was dead wrong. Young people are interested in their parents and their grandparents. And as I said before, vice versa. We have to all care about each other. And if we do that, we’ll be a better society.
Question: How does one age well?
Bill Novelli: Well I think there’s a formula. And the formula is not a deep secret. The way to age well, I think, is to stay mentally and physically active. And then the obvious things: you know eat well, don’t smoke, those kinds of things. Get plenty of exercise. But mental and physical activity are the most important things that people can do to age well.
Recorded on: 9/27/07
Thinking intergenerationally will benefit us in the long run, Novelli says.
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