American is becoming an increasingly age-segregated society. This isn't healthy for any of us.
In his book How Old Are You?, historian Howard Chudacoff reveals that age was not a part of daily life for most of the 19th century. Chudacoff says, “The country’s institutions were not structured according to age-defined divisions, and its cultural norms did not strongly prescribe age-related behavior.” (Birthdays were rarely celebrated or noticed). Chudacoff writes that our obsessive age consciousness developed gradually." Things began changing as our culture went from primarily rural and agriculture-based to urban and manufacturing-based. Children were no longer going to one room school houses, where all ages had been educated together. Young people weren't helping work the family farm. Now we were making distinctions that had never before been made. In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. It fixed minimum ages of 16 for work during school hours, 14 for certain jobs after school, and 18 for dangerous work.
After World War II, as more and more families moved to the suburbs, age distinctions became more clearly defined. Each stage from childhood to old age was designated with a start and end date. And schools and other institutions kept education and socializing separately for each group.
“I think we’re in the midst of a dangerous experiment,” Cornell University professor Karl Pillemer told The Huffington Post. “This is the most age-segregated society that’s ever been. Vast numbers of younger people are likely to live into their 90s without contact with older people. As a result, young people’s view of aging is highly unrealistic and absurd.”
Beyond, our family and close friends, we have become wary of people that aren't in our age group. And we are all the poorer for it!
A generation after the introduction of retirement communities like Sun City, people are realizing that this kind of community is not for them. New ideas are popping up like Nesterly "a trusted service for intergenerational home sharing." Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Mark Freedman and Trent Stamp, say: "
"Age segregation also constitutes a missed opportunity for combining the unique assets of age and youth.Nesterly, an intergenerational home sharing service, is one of these promising innovations. Writing in the Harvard Business Review Mark Freedman and Trent Stamp say: " It marries the insight that many older people have rooms to spare and many students in higher education centers such as Boston, New York, and Los Angeles are struggling to afford sky-high rents. The startup connects older people who have extra space in their homes with young people who are looking for an affordable place to live. And it adds an additional feature: Students can perform chores in return for reduced rent. Its cofounders, Noelle Marcus and Rachel Goor, are recent graduates of MIT’s city planning program. Inspired by the late Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers, an organization of intergenerational activists, and one of the early proponents of age-integrated housing, Marcus and Goor immersed themselves in studying the intersection of the sharing economy and affordable housing. Their agenda is to create this market and make a profit, but they describe themselves decidedly as a social enterprise, one that uses housing as a basis for creating a connection across generations."