The rising ‘Fourth Generation’


The rising ‘Fourth Generation’


Sunday, November 10, 2019

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Asked in an interview in November 2013 what he considered the most significant change to our lives over the next 100 years, Vince Cable, then secretary of state for business in the coalition Conservative Government of Great Britain led by then Prime Minister David Cameron, had this to say: “The most significant change in our lives will be the impact of ageing and growing life expectancy, with the dependent frail and elderly becoming a very large social group.”

Significantly, the former British lawmaker was on point in his assessment, because, based on current United Nations projections, the world population will grow by an average of 70 million per year until 2025. And, according to local experts, we can expect within the same time frame some 25 per cent of the Jamaican population to fall within the grip of the 'Fourth Generation', or the ageing boomers.
Millenarian indulgences aside, these changes and the agenda of concerns of our increasingly grey and ageing population are poised to create anxieties for the society about our greying population in an uncertain future, if not outright panic. The avalanche of social, financial, medical, and other challenges that await the members of our Fourth Generation will be staggering. And the isolation, loneliness, and despair of the elderly in our midst will only increase if Government fails to make expenditure on this cohort significant line items in the national budget, and families and communities play their part so that they will not go wrong in coping with life in the 21st century when it finally blooms full-flowered.

We in this post-colonial outpost need to cultivate more, not less, reverence for the members of the 'Fourth Generation' and duty towards them. But a big part of the problem we face in tackling seriously and systematically the turbulence underpinning the lived reality of our growing elderly cohort has to do with the fact that ageing — like productivity — is not regarded by the political class and policy determiners alike as part and parcel of the irreducible kernel of our humanity. They cannot see the long-term return on investment in old people's well-being.

In plain language, the vast majority of the members of the Fourth Generation, whose contribution to the building of this nation is impatient of debate, are not considered as having a strong political voice, or being good political currency. They are ignored by the very same political elite that espouses on the airwaves and in print and social media, the twin life-long virtues of patriotism and nationalism — except, of course, when their votes are needed at election time.

But, pressure may yet burst asunder this cognitive bubble of antiquity. For life teaches us that all change processes are by definition complex. Hence, since the world population is expected to increase by 40 million per year until the middle of the century when it will reach just over 8,900 million, whatever our desire, race, colour, religion, creed, or political persuasion, the population of the world will inevitably be growing older into the future as it is expanding because both mortality and fertility rates are declining. What is more, the proportion of elderly people globally, ages 65 and over, will more than double from the current seven per cent (450 million) to 16 per cent (1,400 million) by 2050. In fact, and in support of this trend, as I write, more than 300,000 (and rising) resident Jamaicans, out of a population of some 2.7 million, are officially designated as being over the age of 60.

If these trends hold, it means that for our mothers, fathers, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, and other siblings who are, or soon to be, members of the Fourth Generation, the struggle to survive in the 21st century will be anything but relentless. A great many thousands of them will outlive their wealth, as will others fall into ill-health. In Jamaica, as in virtually all countries of the globe, the vicissitudes of ageing, whether impacted by decrepitude or not, will become a major political burden with a vengeance for governments and policy determiners alike.

A glance at some of the conditions affecting Jamaica's Fourth Generation reveals:
• Living alone: 17.3 per cent
• Primary schooling only: 72 per cent
• Have at least one chronic disease: 76 per cent
• Challenge with motor skills (walking, climbing, etc): 45 per cent
• Have no pension: 60 per cent
(Source: Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre)

Jamaicans are living longer

Jamaicans are not only living longer than before, there is also a corresponding improvement in the quality of their lives. But as the Swiss moral philosopher Henry Frederic Amiel once reminded us: “To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.”

Former United States President Jimmy Carter, who at 95, is not only that country's longest living ex-president, but perhaps the world's most accomplished nonagenarian, himself said recently that: “It's hard to live until you're 95 years old.”

Yet, for many of our Baby Boomers, who have evolved into the 'Ageing Boomer Fourth Generation', the hardship of living will be inevitable since they are the fastest growing age group in the country. The Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), in 2011, presented data which showed that there was to be found in all 14 parishes in Jamaica, approximately 305,163 “Ageing Boomers” in the age group 60-95, with the parish of St Andrew having the highest number (61,953), followed by St Catherine (52,770), and Clarendon (28,375).

With or without government intervention and greater familial responsibility shown towards the ageing population, this trend is poised to continue. The 2011 Population and Housing Census tells us that, in the decade 2001-2011, Jamaica has seen some 127, 379 more people ages 45-65 years, and that some 38 per cent of the population (1,2600,53) were identified in the 30-64 age range. By the same token, 217,606 of those identified in the census were found in the 65 and over age range.
As I have had reason to say on more than one occasion to a number of politicians and their bureaucratic supports, there is absolutely no need for our elderly to finish their lives all alone just like so many people do in the USA, UK, Canada, and elsewhere. With a great deal more effort we can create the supportive and caring environment that our Fourth Generation members deserve as they come to the end of their lives.

In this regard, this column offers the highest commendation to seniors advocate Jean Lowrie-Chin, co-conceptualiser of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP); professor of public health and ageing at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Denise Eldermire-Shearer; and the National Council for Senior Citizens (NCSC), currently under the policy guidance of Minister of Labour and Social Security Shahine Robinson and her team of technocrats for representing a great tool and strategy for the re-education, refreshing, and renewal of social attitudes and awareness of the challenges of ageing among the thousands now occupying the Fourth Generation in Jamaica. The work of this brew of patriots represent a wonderful mission statement for the planners and deliverers of social security to the generation needing to live out their lives in peace in the remainder of the 21st century.

In the final analysis, and despite the challenges, members of the aged and 'oldest old' community in Jamaica have much to contribute to the further development of this country. The structural demographic of the aged in the society, furthermore, also provides for Jamaican companies rising to the occasion to cater to the grey market.

Where policymakers struggle, for example, corporate Jamaica can thrive by providing affordable Fourth Generation-friendly goods and services which in a country like Japan is worth in excess of US$50 billion. Services like grocery shopping, money management, and bill payment for those citizens in old age, and who maybe are experiencing physical loneliness, emotional loneliness, or partnership bereavement, are just some of the ways to develop scaled interventions targeted specifically at the needs of citizens of the Fourth Generation.

With the right values and attitudes towards the aged many more of us can be expected to count our lives by smiles rather than tears.

Everton Pryce is a former educator and government advisor. Send comments to the Observer or

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