All countries of the world carry some prejudice or prejudices within themselves. They can be laughing matters in conversations, or can get to be so violent that people get hurt. When I was riding in a cab in Madrid, Spain some years ago, I asked the driver “who speaks the best Spanish?” just to fill a conversation in the horrible traffic jam. “Valencian!” was an instant reply. I knew instantly that he was from Valencia. Then I asked “What about people in Madrid?” He answered: “I don’t know what they speak. They bark at each other.”
This type of expression of prejudice can be just a laughing matter at a dinner table. However, these so-called jokes can often be based on a deeply rooted and historical prejudice.
Now let’s talk about America. We have had many prejudices, and they do continue to exist and harm our society, even though many confrontational situations have largely been reduced to non-violence. However, I would like to point out one huge prejudice that nobody has been eager to talk about. The prejudice I am speaking about is relatively new. About, say, 70-100 years old. Now you are scratching your head trying to search in your brain what that could be. It isn’t that easy.
It is a disconnect valley between our nation’s youth and the aged. I am not a sociology scholar, but the matter isn’t that hard to discern for an amateur like me. Back in the 10th century going into 20th, many American families lived under one roof. The members of the family included the aging parents, working man and woman, and their growing children with probably even some pets. They lived under the same roof. This style of living still goes on in many parts of the world.
What really happens in this culture is that a cultural bond that connects between the generations such as elders, the current bread earners and their children gets well established — operationally, culturally and in all other aspects of daily life. Namely, the culture is generationally contiguous. I am sure a man and his wife working hard to a make living don’t always cherish having their parents living under the same roof, and proffering their opinion about their life. But, they get also the benefits of having their children taken care by the parents as well. That kind of mutual assistance culture slowly gave away to the type of living whereby the aging parents were living separately as the entire American society’s living standard started to rise appreciably in 1900 and on.
The ensuing prosperity after World War II starting in 1945 by the powerful American manufacturing industry dominating the world accelerated the trend for the elders to live separate from the younger husband and his wife. This trend made everybody enjoy the generational independence which had been unavailable before.
Starting around the 1950s when television broadcasting became the main medium of commercial and cultural communications, the nation got immersed in the youth-oriented message targeting the 18-40-year-old population. The commercial message and TV production contents were perennially focused on the youth and youth only. The obvious justification was that segment was the main active market with an insatiable appetite for the products and services offered. In those days, TV commercials were almost never aimed at the aging population as it occupied insignificant segment of the total market.
Fast forward by 70 years to today. The aging population 65+ accounts for 15 percent of the total American population, and the baby boomers born between 1946 to 1964 are entering 1.2 million people per year to that age bracket. The 65+ population now stands at 49 million and it will grow to 89 million in 2050, a mere 33 years away. That is a huge tsunami coming toward us. Are we ready? Ready for what? Nah, we ain’t, for whatever we should be.
This is what I am talking about. We have this very deep valley of disconnect between the younger generation and the 65+ population. In fact, it is insultingly obvious that American English has hundreds of deriding jokes laughing about the aged people. All wall of prejudices make communications across generations difficult or impossible. I believe we in America we have created this tall wall between the younger and the aged, across through which we have a very hard time communicating.
I am about to finish this diatribe as some of you think this is a typical sociological malarkey with no value. Well, OK, now I would get into the effect of this disconnect. This generational disconnect or prejudice doesn’t result in any violence or congressional session or some Washington demonstration. It results in a large monetary loss for this country.
What? You say. Monetary loss? “How do you come up with this damned fantasy?” That’s what you’d say.
OK, let me explain. According to the available statistics, American Medicare “A” (hospitalization portion of Medicare) spends approximately $40 billion a year for people who get hospitalized after falling and getting injured. These hospitalization expenditure occurs because the person who fell down wasn’t discovered and received assistance right after he/she fell. When a person over 65+ falls, he/she must receive an immediate care within the so-called “Golden Hour.” If the patient is found later than one hour after falling, the hospitalization stay become exponentially longer at the per day cost of some $3,000. The average cost for that hospitalization now runs around $27,000.
About one million people fall down in one month in America — a fall every 2.5 second. And, about 450,000 people who fell are passed out, and cannot signal his/her fall to the outside world to summon help.
To be continued.
Shintaro "Sam" Asano was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the top 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century. He lives on the seacoast of New Hampshire with his dog Sophie. You can write to Sam at sasano@americaninventioninstitute