A Theoretical Perspective
Aging is inevitable for every living cell on the planet. This is a solid proof fact and no one can argue with it. Scientists define aging as the accumulation of changes in living organisms or objects after a while. These changes affect different systems of the organism and change the functioning of this organism accordingly. Human aging is more complicated than just physical changes of the body. This is a complex, multidimensional process of physical, psychological, and social changes. Aging is a natural process for any living organism. This is just a part of the life cycle. However, this process has significant psychological and social meaning too.
Aging can be successful as well as rather painful for people. First case is in action, when the components of successful aging are met: low probability of disease and/or disability, high functional and cognitive capacity of the body, active position in life. These components make aging comfortable for the individuals, who desire to be the active part of the society despite their age. The second scenario is less attractive and, probably, more usual for the aging people. The body loses its functionality, people become less agile, mental degradation, various diseases, and disabilities limit the ability of the old people to be happy with the current age and situation. Thus, many scientists believe that aging is more like disease than a normal process (Bass, 2006).
Various theories exist regarding the causes of aging, but none of them gives clear understanding of the initial mechanism, leading to the degradation of cells. The only general conclusion, with which most scientists agree, is that genetic premises and peculiarities are the keys to solve this cornerstone issue. These theories can be divided into biological and non-biological (Bass, 2006). Biological theories that should be named are Telomere theory, Somatic Mutation theory, Reproductive-Cell Cycle theory, Wear-and-Tear theory, Error Accumulation theory, The Viral theory of aging, Accumulative-Waste theory, Evolutionary theories, Aging-Clock theory, Autoimmune theory, Cross-Linkage theory, Reliability theory of aging and longevity, Mitohormesis, Free-Radical theory, and Misrepair-Accumulation theory (Bass, 2006). The main idea of all these theories is in the biological changes over the time, according to different reasons. It is obvious, that these reasons can be detected, measured, and processed in order to find the solution to slow down or eliminate the aging. However, the bottom line of the biological part of the issue is that there are no strict patterns that can be applied to any individual equally, which makes these theories only partially successful on the road to solve the aging problem (Bass, 2006).
Non-biological theories are not that numerous, but they take into consideration psychological and social part of the human life mostly. They are Disengagement theory, Activity theory, Selectivity theory, and Continuity theory. The main idea of these theories, in contrast to biological theories, is that human aging is directly connected with the social behavior of each individual more than just simple biological changes in the organism (Bass, 2006). The theories about social behavior and place in the life definitely have the right to be taken into consideration by the researches of the aging. Nevertheless, they have the same flaws as the biological theories.
These theories just do not work in all cases. They give opposite results, applied in the same way but in various environments and to different people (Bass, 2006). Thus, the general patterns of social life influence to the aging process cannot be created in order to find the key to slow down the aging. Despite the lack of major success regarding the problem of aging, scientists keep searching and exploring the area, developing new theories and modifying the existing ones (Bass, 2006). Humanity looks for an answer, for the elixir of immortality or, at least, double-, triple- life span from the beginning of its existence. This is the main premise to believe that someday people will be able to live as long as they want in order to be able to enjoy their lives repeatedly (Bass, 2006). Considering the theoretical background, the examples of aging in Seattle and Taiwan are to be explored.
Aging in Seattle: Current Situation and Issues
Aging is one of the processes that influence society globally. The thing is in the fact that improvements in medicine and overall increase of life quality allow people to live longer. Thus, aging in the U.S. tends to become a serious issue in the next 20-25 years. Seattle is one of the cities that experience substantial issues due to the fact of excessive aging population growth. According to Kaufman (1961), Seattle was on the fifth place among cities with “percent 65 and over” and had 12.0% right after St. Luis, Boston, San Francisco, and Minneapolis in 1960. It can be concluded that this issue has rather deep roots and long history.
The trend remains stable for the past several decades. According to Lopez & Cheung, Inc. (2012), “in 2000, People age 60 and over represented 15.6% of the total population. By 2011, they will represent 20.4% which is an increase of 4.8%.” As it can be noticed, the overall population “over 60” grew from 12% to 20.4% for the past 50 years. Estimations of King County Housing Authority provide the following numbers: aging population should double by 2025. It will create rather substantial problems in terms of affordable houses for people of 60 who do not have stable financial situation or low-incomers (King County Housing Authority, 2013).
In particular, the following issue is in place: Aging and Disability Services and local public agencies issued report concluding that poor aging people will constitute 53.793 of population by 2025. It means that Seattle\King County will need to create more than 16.000 units of housing for these people. It is important to understand that poverty rate should not increase as well; otherwise, the numbers will differ (King County Housing Authority, 2013).
There are more issues to consider. By 2025, the number of aged people over 60 will grow to 23%. The number of poor seniors of this age will increase for about 100%. The necessity of affordable places to live at is excessively greater than potential and available supply. Even the creation of additional units in amount of about 1000 will not solve the problem by 2025 keeping the current ratio in mind. Future seniors will have financial problems as well. The thing is in the differences of saving money culture. Baby-boomers will not probably have so safe and secured retirement incomes as pensions and annuities. They will have to rely on various saving plans and 401(k) system that are not that reliable and need more attention to keep them on the right track (King County Housing Authority, 2013).
There is another area of trouble to be focused on. Aging to a rather substantial age, allowed by the healthcare advances, creates multi-generation households. Thus, children of 30-60 age take care of their 60-90 age parents. It creates certain tension in such households because adults have to support their children that live at home still and their old parents that must be taken care of. It decreases the satisfaction from life and creates premises for “overworkload”, lack of appropriate rest, and furthermore, depressions. Women are more prone to such situations and it makes situations in such families rather complicated.
The problem is still in the inability to have a household of their own for elderly due to the lack of the affordable units and the overall poverty of aging population. According to Vobejda (1992), “This new phenomenon of multigenerational families has mixed implications: More children will grow up with the support of older relatives, and more people in their 60s - the "young elderly" will be called upon to care for 80- and 90-year-old parents.” This “new” phenomenon was noticed in 1990s therefore, modern situation in Seattle is even more disturbing.
Seattle is one of the regions where people would like to live so the prices for houses are rather high. It means that older people have competitors for affordable housing acquisition or rental in form of immigrants to Seattle. It creates and will create growing tensions within King County, Seattle, and areas nearby. Such substantial increase of older people will require additional facilities and services to be provided in terms of future limited mobility. Only the joint efforts of local government, nonprofit organization, and housing representatives can solve the upcoming crisis. There is a need in developing a well-thought strategy that should include initiatives that can assure healthy aging, training of financial literacy, strategic investments in future housing units for seniors, etc. (King County Housing Authority, 2013).
Aging in Taiwan: Current Situation and Issues
The factors that contributed to the decrease of mortality rates among infants in Taiwan were the 1895-1945 period of colonization by Japan, improved sanitation measures together with control over diseases that caused epidemics. Baby boom was observed in the post-war Taiwan since 1950, and by 1967, about 400 thousand infants were born each year (Tssai, 2009). The peak of the total fertility rate, or TFR was registered in 1952, being 7 per woman, but since then it started to decline, remaining rather high before the end of the 60s – 4 per woman. The decline of births was observed in 1967-1975, but birth rate started to rise again and reached its peak in in 1976, which was the Year of the Dragon. During the next five years, the birth rates were high with about 400 thousand infants born (Tssai, 2009).
Migration is considered one of the most important factors, determining the population of any society, but it was not a determining factor in the population of Taiwan during the last 50 years. It would not be a mistake to say that the birth rates played the most important role, whereas there was not much change in the rates of deaths during that period. For example, the decline of the crude death rates, or CDR, was observed since the beginning of 1950s to the late years of 1970s. The rates dropped from seven to five percent respectively. Young people constituted a very large portion of the population of that time.
The beginning of 1980 marked the slight increase of CDRs; it was due to the natural causes of aging and dying of old people. It is worth mentioning that the CDRs were rather stable by the end of the twentieth century with the rapid decline of the crude birth rates, or CBRs, during the same period. For instance, in 1960, CDRs were forty percent, but in 2007, they were below nine percent (Tssai, 2009).
The decrease in birth rates started to appear as a trend in the 1950s, but the late 1960s and the next two decades saw the reduction of fertility, mainly to the following factors – the government launched family programs, contraception was more and more available, and the urbanization as well. The figures speak for themselves: the TFR was 2.1 in 1984, and it was the level of population replacement. It was an important point in the change of demographic picture of Taiwan (Tssai, 2009). The year of 2000, which was again the Year of the Dragon, stopped that that falling trend with its TFR at 1.7. The drop continued again next year and in 2007, TFR was 1.1. In numbers, it was 203 thousand infants born; it was almost a half of the number of babies born 30 years before that. Contrasting to the overall global TFR, which is 2.7 on the average, and 1.6 TFR in countries with higher level of development, it is possible to say that Taiwan’s TFR is the world’s lowest.
The aging of the Taiwan society started in 1993 when seven percent of the population were people 65 years of age and older. It reached 10.2 percent in 2007, but the developed regions showed a higher percentage of the same age group. Since the recent years are marked by very low rates of fertility together with the aging generation of the baby boomers, the rapid increase of the percentage of elderly people in the society is inevitable. In 2025, it will be 20 percent of the whole population, 30 percent in 2040, and in 2056, 38 percent of the population of Taiwan will be old people (Tssai, 2009). This is the projection of the Council for Economic Planning and Development. The rates of aging in Taiwan will be much faster in comparison to the other developed nations in the world. For example, the portion of aged people in Taiwan’s population will rise from seven to fourteen percent in mere 25 years.
The problem of aging in Taiwan is very serious and requires attention (Tsai, 2008; Tsai, 2009). The United Nations qualifies a nation as an “aging” one when the percentage of aged population in the country is seven, and Taiwan reached that limit in 1993. According to the forecasts, this percentage will double and reach fourteen by 2018, thus the country will qualify as the “aged” nation according to definition by the United Nations (Tsai, 2008). Taiwanese government announced the so-called White Paper on Population Policy in 2008, which is a guideline for the development of population policy for the years to come. According to this document, Taiwan’s total fertility rate was one of the lowest among all the countries in the world at the rate of 1.1, at the same time the aged population was at the record high rate of 10.2 percent (Tsai, 2008).
In 1989-2003 the average age among the people who were 60 years of age and older increased by three or even four years. Categories of people of older age saw an increase as well. For example, the number of those who were 80 years of age and older jumped from 0.5% to 39.3% over the above-mentioned years. The number of married old participants over fourteen years of surveys dropped from 72.3% to a much lower number of 48.8%. At the same time, the number of widowers increased from 22.8% up to 46.5%.
As for the living status, the elderly population of Taiwan prefers to live along or live with their spouses, and this tendency is growing. The percentage of those who lived along increased from 7.5 to 13.5 during the year of survey, the percentage of those who lived with their spouses increased from 13.25 to 17 over the course of five years (Tssai, 2009). This allows making a conclusion that less elderly people live with children, the numbers support that conclusion – the percentage dropped from 79.25 to 69.25. The elderly people in general are more satisfied with their lives and the number of dissatisfied elderlies is decreasing. At the same time, more and more elderly people rate their health as not very good, while the number of those who consider their health good decreased greatly from 45 percent to 25.8. Almost 53 percent of the survey participants rated their economic status as satisfactory in 1993. This percentage did not change much over the following years (Tssai, 2009).
As for the type of occupation in the aged group of Taiwan’s population, 49 percent of them were housekeepers, while 32.8 still worked. 9.8 percent of elderlies were office employees and 8.5 occupied managerial positions. 28.5 percent of elderly people worked for others, whereas business owners were 22.5 percent, including elderlies themselves and their spouses. The rest preferred to be housekeepers. The average time of work after retirement increased as well. Among those working retirees who retired between the years of 1989-1993, they kept working after retiring for 2.46 years on the average (in 1993, to be exact). The elderlies started to work for three or four years since 1993 to 2003 (the survey years).
As the elderly in Taiwan change their working, living, and other habits, their leisure habits change as well, as it is shown in the survey. TV is one of the most accessible means of entertainment for the elderly people, so most of them watch TV programs. Still, the number of those who watch TV dropped from 96.3 percent to 88. The percentage of elderly people who like to listen to radio does not see any significant change in the years of 1996-2003. Elderly people tend to play games less and less, and the statistics confirms it. Since 1989 to 2003, the percentage of those who play games dropped from 13.5 to 8.3. People tend to socialize less and visit their friends less as well, the number of those people dropped from 63.36 to 53.5 percent (Tssai, 2009).
Gardening as a hobby or a pastime tends to attract less elderlies. 37.5% used to participate in this type of activity and their number dropped to 24.5%. The recording of data on people who like to take walks began only in 1996, so there is no earlier information on such people. Since 1996, the number of fans of walking dropped from 71.5 to 63 percent. In 1993, 58.5% of elderly people participated in outdoor exercises, and that number was rather high. Only 8.3 percent of elderlies practiced independent exercises outdoor in 2003, and that was a significant drop in numbers. As for those, who took part in collective exercise, their numbers dropped as well. Out of 14.5%, participants only 9% participated in such exercises (Tssai, 2009; 2008).
The island of Taiwan is on its fast track to becoming a society with the domination of aged people, and according to the predictions, only half of Taiwan’s population will work in 2060 (China org, 2012). The need for pension reform is dire and Taiwan authorities consider such a reform. Taiwanese economic planners estimate that nowadays 2.6 million senior citizens (65 years of age and older) will become 7.46 million in the future (China org, 2012). This will happen at the time when only half of the population of Taiwan will work. The society is considered a “hyper-aged” according to the global standards when 20 percent of its population is people over 65 years of age. Taiwan will reach this number in 2020 as currently more than fourteen percent of its population is elderly people, according to the official statistics. Not only the number of elderlies is expected to rise, but the life expectancy will rise as well. As for the male population, it will increase to 82 years, whereas now it is 76.7. Females are expected to live to 88 from current 82. All of this adds more pressure to the pension system of the island of Taiwan (China org, 2012).
Taiwan’s employment insurance debt is potentially estimated at more than two hundred fifty one billion USD or seven trillion New Taiwan dollars. The bankruptcy of the fund is expected in 2027, affecting heavily the lives of 9.45 million people. Stable pensions are guaranteed to civil servants, service members, and teachers. These people will become the targets of the complaints from the public. People fear that if no pension reform is made social divisions will grow and deepen (China org, 2012).
Many officials agree that the next decade or so will prove to be a rather critical time for the pension reform. There is a growing need in the reevaluation of the pension system, the finances of the system need to be improved. Plans of reform will be put forward, and the public opinion will be taken into considerations. It is necessary for the reform to consider different generations and the equity between them (China org, 2012). The aging society will use up most of the island’s resources, therefore, it is very important to curb the problem. One of the key factors that will help in this struggle is raising birth rates and fertility rates in Taiwan.
Aging is a biological process that makes everything die in the end. It is one of the fundamental laws of nature. Scientists are not able to fully understand the process of aging and its causes however, they have moved rather far in this direction. However, aging is not just about getting old and weak – it is a complicated mix of biological, societal, and psychological processes. The theories were provided to explain the importance of understanding aging as the complex process. In addition, theories try to explore and evaluate the influence of aging on behavioral experiences of elderlies, their desires, and wishes.
Considering the research of both Seattle and Taiwan in terms of exploring aging population, similarities, and differences, the following can be concluded. Seattle and Taiwan are thousands miles away from each other; they are located in utterly different areas; have different cultures, society, and people. However, the aging trend is similar for both. The increasing life span, decreasing birth rate, overall increase of living standards, and improved healthcare services provide elderlies with opportunities to live longer in both areas of research.
Both Taiwan and Seattle have certain issues with people over 60 in terms of increasing number of such people. The issue is in the necessity of solving the problem of their allocation, providing with appropriate services of life support, etc. On the other hand, Taiwan elderlies are more focused on the quality of their leisure and search for the occupation in order to realize the desire of self-realization in this age, according to the above-discussed theories. Seattle’s aging population is more concerned with such issues as where to live and how to save money for further living after retirement. Therefore, the processes of aging, trends in both areas of research are similar in their concept. The aftermath is very different. The situation can be changed by the adoption of the new programs aimed to assure aging people with the appropriate housings, pensions, and care. These people, after all, contributed to the development of modern world and are worthy of respect (most of them).