The Age Wave and Its Consequences: A Conversation with Ted Fishman

Interview with Ted Fishman

Thinking in Public

January 17, 2011

This is a rush transcript.  This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

This is “Thinking in Public”, a program dedicated to intelligent conversation about front line theological and cultural issues with the people who are shaping them.  I’m Albert Mohler, your host, and President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

Mohler:            You see it in places like Sarasota Florida. You see it also in Tokyo or Beijing. Increasingly, you see it in places like Jakarta. You probably see it in your own neighborhood perhaps in your own church even in your own family.  We’re talking about the aging of the world’s population.  This is a long term phenomenon that is coming with very significant consequences.  It’s going to require a rethinking of many of the ways we think communities, churches, and families are arranged.  It’s going to bring great challenges especially to those of us who are trying to think these things through from a Christian worldview.  Let’s think about the aging of the world’s population.

Ted Fishman is a veteran journalist, essayist.  He’s written for many of the leading newspapers in the country.  And he’s written a new book that demands our attention. It’s entitled Shock of Gray:  The Aging of the World’s Population and How It Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival, and Nation Against Nation. It’s going to demand some of our most crucial and critical thinking as we look to the future and the challenges ahead.  Ted Fishman, welcome to Thinking in Public.

Fishman:          I’m very glad to be with you.

Mohler:            Now, when I read your book it seems like it’s not the first kind of trumpet call, or alarm on the issue of aging, but I don’t think anyone’s pulled together the data quite so comprehensively and persuasively as you have.  Can you just paint us the big picture of what’s really happening in terms of the aging of the world’s population?

Fishman:          Yeah.  So for me I got interested in it because you know I was wondering whether the globalization of the world’s economy was being driven by the aging of big parts of the world which are sending jobs abroad and encouraging development in other countries.  So the way I pulled it together was first as a reporter going around the world to the places that were older first and those were many of the developed countries so I would just work my way in and try to find public officials who knew the story, demographers in Japan and southern Europe and around the United States, ask them what they saw and the reasons for it.  And then go into the communities and talk to the people who are living this change.  And when I got wind of something, like for example, I thought there was a connection between the aging of a community and the different roles that grandparents were playing, then I would go to the grandparents and then the scholars and then the officials who were dealing with those things.  And just trying to interweave the numbers and the narratives from all of these different corners and see how this big change is really changing all of our important relationships.

Mohler:            Well, talk the numbers to us for a moment.  What’s the scale of this kind of challenge?

Fishman:          Well, the scale is huge.  You know when you read the paper about big demographic change I think one of the things that people think about is just how long people are living.  So this is true.  So for around 7,000 generations of human existence people have lived about the same length of time very rarely past their forties.  Only for the last ten generations are people living longer and living quite a bit longer.  In the developed world around thirty years longer and so if you add up the number of extra years on the planet that we’re all living it’s in the hundreds of billions.  If you compare the world’s current population to how many years of time they would use up compared to if they were born two or three hundred years ago it is those hundreds of billions of years that we have added.  So that’s a huge gift mankind has given itself.  And then if you just weigh the distribution of the population, different age groups, that’s also changed markedly.  So the first time in the history of the world there will be more people over fifty than other seventeen.  This has never ever happened before.  This is a momentous change for all of us.  Then if you go around the world and you look at one of the factors that is really making the world old which is the appearance of much, much smaller families in the world, that’s a reality in virtually every corner of the planet where in the developed world, in the developing world family sizes are about half of what they were a generation or two ago even in places that we think of as the homes of very big families.  Those families are far smaller than they have been in the past.

Mohler:            You know, demographers are often able to track this kind of thing and even forecast.  But the smaller family situation, the fall in the birth rate, has caught many demographers by surprise because even though they saw the pattern in the developed nation, especially in the west and the developed world, they really didn’t see it coming in the developing world until all of a sudden it’s happened in a very short amount of time.

Fishman:          Yes, and it’s quite remarkable.  You know, I lived in Indonesia in the early 1980’s and that was a place where every village felt like an urban environment because family sizes were so big and the household populations were so high.  Your neighbor’s house would have ten people in their house.  That government in the world’s largest Muslim country started having a family planning program and really encouraged families to limit their size to three.  It took hold and then families started going down from there and now in Indonesia a classic case of a developing country, a Muslim country, their birthrate is pretty close to ours which is far, far lower than they ever have been and it happened in very short order.

Mohler:            Now, do you attribute that primarily to economic considerations?

Fishman:          You know I think it’s due to a couple of things.  And mostly those are very good things.  One of those is the realization among most of the people in the world that the life of a woman is not the life of a slave.  And when you allow women to start achieving their own aspirations which is to get educated, stay in school longer, have a career, invest in their career, the family size gets smaller because the number of years they devote to having children shrinks.  And they start having children later.  So this is a function of the emancipation of women even in small degrees but it’s also a function of the urbanization of the family.  So, when families move off of the farm and children are no longer ready labor but something that has to be invested in, then family size shrinks too.

Mohler:            So the graying of the population as you trace it along with other researchers is primarily due to two considerations.  First of all, the birthrate is fallen considerably so that certainly helps to explain why there would be fewer under- seventeens in the world.  But then on the other hand, you look at the second factor which is the extension of life and not just by a trifling matter but by as many as thirty years over previous generations.  Is there some point of no return in this?

Fishman:          You know, I don’t know, and that’s a big open question.  You know for the last century Americans have been adding around 2 ½ years of life every decade you know to the average life span of an American and we’ve had a small stalling of this just in the last numbers, but the long term trend is up and up.  I went to  a conference in Washington recently  that brought together  life scientists from all over the world discussing whether extreme longevity was possible.  And the only thing that seems possible on that front right now is that the controversy will continue.  We don’t know.  I think people think that a lifespan of a hundred will be commonplace.  But whether we’ll get to 125, 135 which is to say will we add the same number of years in the next century as we have in the last, people really don’t know.

Mohler:            Well, you start looking at this and you realize that there are crucial social, and cultural, and economical, and political questions at stake.  But before we go there, let me just ask you to take us to some of the places where you see this kind of change.  For instance, take us as you do in your book to Sarasota, Florida.  What does that look like?

Fishman:          Well, Sarasota, Florida looks today like an old town because you walk around you see a lot of people with gray hair.  You see a lot of people who make you nervous when they’re behind the wheel of the car.  You see shopkeepers who are past traditional retirement age.  You go to a concert or the opera, or a sporting event, the audience is well into late life.  But then you go around the town and despite what the town looks like it feels quite useful.  I was interested in this because Sarasota is one of the oldest places demographically in the United States.  But it is an age today at which the rest of the country will get to in short order and the city has decided, really steadfastly, that it is not going to let the age of the residents there to define whether the place feels young or old.  That Sarasota is a place where older people move to get rejuvenated, and it’s become a place that has found a kind of civic rejuvenation and personal rejuvenation in the fact that it’s an older place.  I love that.  The culture there is to keep older people active but there’s so many opportunities to be lifelong learner there.  It’s kind of a cult.  It has more volunteer organizations per capita than any other community in the United States, so there’s volunteer organizations for everything, cultural, service organization.  The older citizens there really love to work with kids so there’s a lot of that kind of organization.  And when you get their age-fifty-eight, sixty, sixty-five, you’re one of the kids now and there’s actually people in their nineties telling you to keep it down and stop the horseplay.  The pressure to stay active is so strong in that town it can actually be a kind of unwelcome pressure for people who can’t keep up.  But that is a place where people go to keep up and keep their social networks active too.  And I loved it.  It’s probably one of the very, very best places in the world to age.  And it’s become kind of a Silicon Valley for aging because it’s a place where people are willing to try new things on the business front and as consumers.  And this is a place where businesses take shape to try out their fortunes in an aging place, and they kind of spread their model to other places around the country and around the world.  I was pretty excited about it.  And to me all it says is that you know a lot of what’s involved in our aging life is really an attitude.  Are we in a community that’s going to say old age ought to be the cartoon version of old, or ought to be something else. We can reinvent ourselves, stay active, stay healthy, and stay connected.

Mohler:            Now let me ask you to move from Sarasota to Japan.  Let’s go to a town like Tokyo or the nation of Japan.  How does it look there?

Fishman:          Well, Japan is the oldest country in the world.  There’s a few contenders for that title but Japan is a good one.  And it’s old because they’re baby boom was very short so they’re ahead of the rest of the world.  And the women in Japan are particularly long-lived.  Often when you walk around the streets of Japan it feels like a country of older women.  Tokyo, you know is a huge city so it has a kind of downtown district for every demographic group there.  And one of the downtown districts is just for older people.  And you walk down the street which is you know like a good chunk of 5th avenue or something and it’s just this sea of white hair and all of the merchants, and all of the stores, and their fashionable and wonderful stores, are geared around catering to this older population.  But it’s also skewed the workplace there and family life in Japan.  And I was lucky enough to stay with a family that was a multi-generational family.  And the mother in that family began taking care of older people in her teens, family members, grandparents, great aunts, and so on is now herself in her early seventies and still in charge of an older relative, an aunt of hers who is nearly a hundred years old and she is taking care of eight older people from her teens through her late adult life.  And this is one of the features of the life of Japanese women in Japan is because the burden is just so heavy.  I think this is one of the reasons why family size in Japan has shrunk so dramatically to be one of the smallest in the world because women simply can’t take on the duties of being care giver to multiple older people.  Being the tutors to their children, being a worker, and being a wife, it’s too heavy.

Mohler:            Now, I think that’s a fascinating insight frankly and one I had not encountered in other analysis like this.  I’d love to talk about that further but I ask you take us to a different place where you also in your book discuss what’s coming.  Take us to Rockford, Illinois.

Fishman:          You know Rockford was also interesting.  It has two big segments of its population.  It has kind of a white, German, Scandinavian population which is the long term resident population in Rockford.  And they’re as old as any communal population in the United States.  You know, they’re close to the age of the people in Sarasota and it has a younger minority population.  But the culture in the town is run by this bigger group and they have been slammed by globalization because as their workforce there has aged and become inexpensive or forced to employ it was an industrial work force people have lost their jobs.  There are legions of people who are unemployed and had good industrial jobs who are now in minimum wage jobs working in big box stores, or starting their own businesses in their home, earning far less than they use to.  And it’s a town where a lot of the atmosphere makes you feel like you’re past, you’re used by dating, your fifty so I was interested in Rockford was doing about it.  And they have a kind of civic development plan which is designed to rejuvenate their town.  They elected a very young mayor who ran on a platform to bring young people back into Rockford because they had been leaving.  And to create the kind of culture in town that would lure new young professionals in.  It’s a very, very hard thing to do to crank a town out of this aging dynamic and to me, you know, I thought it was a very interesting contrast to Sarasota.  Why is it that one city really makes people feel old when they ought to feel pretty young and another place make people feel young when the rest of the world sees them as pretty old?

Mohler:            Ted Fishman comes to this with a journalist’s ability.  I found fascinating as he went from places like Sarasota to Rockford and beyond and as he collected data and assimilated it.  Now if you’re reading this book as a marketer you’re certainly going to see all kinds of marketing opportunities.  And all the infomercials of the late night television seem to be at least in my mind headed in this direction.  You also have opportunities related to what people will do with the years that they now have to invest in things after their normal work life.  But there are significant challenges ahead.  How in the world do we handle a population in the world in which there are more and more persons depended upon fewer and fewer persons?  How do we deal with the redefinition of humanity in terms of the lifespan?  That’s where we need to turn next.

Mohler:            The vignettes that Ted Fishman offers in his book concerning the graying of the world Shock of Gray is the title of the book The Aging of the World’s Population and How It Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival, and Nation Against Nation. You know Ted, as we’ve been having this conversation we basically been talking about everything but the kind of conflicts that are there in the subtitle of your book.  I want to ask you to zero in on what these kind of changes are going to mean because when you think about the changes in the way human beings live, if we were to plot out the basic demographic changes from industrialization and urbanization on, it seems to me that the aging of the population may be the most significant thing we face, and it’s going to have rather dramatic consequences for societies.

Fishman:          I agree with that.  That’s the whole project of the book is to help people see how this big change informs everything in their life.  All of the most important relationships you have so in the subtitle of the book you know I talk about all of the competitions that exist as a result of this.  Young against old in our country and in other advanced developed countries we’ve made promises to support old people with income supports, with health care. And now we’re in crises over whether we can afford those or if we do choose to pay them, pay for them, will that put the resources that we pay for schools, roads, support for new industries at risk?  And what the aging of the world does, it creates this vast competition for resources across generations.  What the world is struggling right now…I think are these big questions of intergenerational justice.  So when people hit the streets of France, or Greece, or Spain and their demanding some sort of remedy to the physical crises that don’t hammer older people too hard, what they’re really demanding…young and old people on the street is a kind of intergenerational justice.  And discussion is becoming very intense.

Mohler:            Well, indeed when you start looking at the basic numbers you can see why a crisis is fast approaching.  Because as more people are not working supported by a fewer number of persons proportionally who are working you have a great shift in economic responsibility from the old to the young.  And you also have the expectation on the part of many older people that their work life will end and someone else will take care of them.  It used to be that that was a fairly short amount of time.  Now, it can be three decades or more.

Fishman:          Oh absolutely.  You know this is one of the realities of an aging world too is that when you get a big population in these upper ages and the population over sixty-five in the United States for example will triple while the rest of the population just goes up incrementally, you get a much bigger dependent population that is dependent for far longer.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t lots of people who can work well into their later ages-there are.  But just numerically, the change is so big that the picture of how many people are dependent also changes enormously.  And it’s something we have to think about very deeply because the structures we use to have in place to take care of people are at risk.  So, as we just said, the government money that would go for support is not enough to support the newly large groups.  And the family that use to care for their own are far smaller than used to be.  So who do you turn to?  The childless family is a common place.  The one and two child family is a common place.  And the people are living into their nineties and above.  The child you turn to could take care of you might be in their seventies.

Mohler:            Absolutely.

Fishman:          So it requires a radical rethink of how we care for each other and really urges us to find a sense of community and have that emerge out of this great competition.

Mohler:            Now, I find that fascinating that you say that because it seems to be that one of the things that is happening that might be most dangerous long term is the clustering of people just generationally.  I mean after all, to go back to the example of Sarasota we talked about earlier, is it really helpful to have grandparents so far separated from grandchildren?  To have older Americans clustered together in retirement communities it seems to me that the loss of family and the loss of kind of an organic community is going to become a major issue when we see this clustering phenomenon.

Fishman:          Well, people are making amazing choices and sometimes they’re socially driven and sometimes their economically driven.  So a lot of the people who go to Sarasota aren’t leaving their families, they’re leaving the home they’ve lived in for a long time.  But from where their children had already migrated out.  So a family, an older couple who moves from my home town-to Chicago to Sarasota, they move there because they have one child who probably lives in Los Angeles and another who lives in Park City, Utah or something like that.  And they can’t go to those places and network themselves into their children’s lives.  They would rather network themselves into a life that is more familiar to them among their age.  The overwhelming preference among people everywhere I’ve gone, certainly in the United States statistically, is for people to age in their homes, near their friends and family, near their churches and synagogues because that’s where their comfortable, that’s where they know the landscape, that’s where their network exists.  Some of the most exciting things for me to come across in the book was how communities are helping people age in their homes.  How do you provide for a neighborhood that used to be a suburban neighborhood with lots of young families and big families but is now filled with empty nesters.  How do you deliver to those empty nesters the kind of services they would get in Sarasota?  The health care services, the social services, get them out to cultural events and these are the most innovative things that I’ve seen.  And they’re pretty exciting, they’re few and far between still, but you know I think we really need to find ways to spread that model.

Mohler:            What do you see as the future of the idea of retirement?  You know there was the kind of mid-twentieth century expectation that persons were to about age sixty-five and retired.  How does that fit into a world in which people are now living well into their nineties and when centenarians are going to be common?

Fishman:          You know, retirement if it comes is probably going to come for most of the people in our lives far later than it does now.  You know before I wrote the book the economy was humming and the value of people’s houses was high and their savings plans were robust.  And people tended to retire on average around the time they could first start getting their social security at 62.  But if you poll people today who are nearing retirement, within seven years of retirement, they overwhelmingly say that they will be working long past the social security age because they need the money, and they worry about outliving their savings.  And their houses aren’t worth what they used to be and their retirement and pension plans, their retirement, savings, and pension plans feel endangered to them.  And so if people do retire I think it’s going to come later.  People also probably don’t want to spend these thirty new years of life after traditional retirement completely idle they want to be active, they want to participate.  Our moral leadership should say you are a citizen, you can participate, and so I see retirement really getting re-thought in fundamental ways by choice and by necessity.

Mohler:            Now, what about the big conflicts coming.  I don’t mean to paint this in entirely dark terms here but frankly, in your book you rather straightforwardly face some of the big challenges that we are going to encounter.  Could you enumerate those for us?

Fishman:          Well, some of the big choices  that we face are what role do we play in the world as the peacekeeper of the world.  So, as Europe ages as much of the rest of East Asia ages at a pace that is more rapid than us increasingly large proportion of their financial resources and human resources will be devoted to providing for their older citizens.  And that will leave the United States standing nearly alone as the guardian of stability in the world if we are a guardian of stability of the world.  We’re certainly as the military power.  And that’s an expensive proposition and that weighs against how we provide for our people.  I think that you know this has challenges for us because it will be increasingly difficult to talk other countries into the kind of project that we need them to understand to uphold the world’s security.  You know sending peacekeeping forces intervening where necessary.  And aging might make it increasingly difficult world for the United States strategically.

Mohler:            What about internally for the country?  What kind of challenges do you see businesses, schools, universities, and cultural institutions facing?

Fishman:          Well, I see huge challenges.  At the very same time we’re talking about the need for people to work longer there’s enormous pressure coming from industry and from employers to get rid of their most expensive workers who are their older workers.  And one of the consequences of that is that is the most vulnerable group of workers in our country right now.  And I think for some time to come are these older workers.  People are fifty and above who are cast out of their mainstream employment.  The job that gave them benefits, the job that gave them insurance, and pension plans and those people have to look anew for different kinds of jobs.  Often much lower paid jobs and the jobs that they had are either replaced by machines or shipped abroad to countries that don’t have these age related expenses.  You know this is the big propellant of globalization.  So, if you look at a city like Rockford for example, you know the workers there are very capable but they don’t have the jobs.  The economic development council said that they have a workforce of 140,000 people, 65,000 of whom are underemployed and you see those underemployed people everywhere you go.  They’re the older people who are greeting people in…stores.  So this is our challenge.  How do we create an economy in which these older workers who are not old they’re just old for the workforce can be made into productive, useful people that they want them to be?

Mohler:            Let me ask you one final question Ted.  When you look at this, do you think most people you know just in terms of everyday life are pretty much in denial about what’s going on here?  And then apply that to policy makers as well.

Fishman:          You know that’s the most important question is how willing are we to face this reality, and I do think it’s a difficult reality to face.  I’ve written a book that people are moved by, that they’re engaged by, but after they read it they say this is very, very hard to face.  They know they need to face it but it’s hard.  And I think the politicians that talk about this and feel that it’s difficult to talk about.  The people who are championing older citizens have a hard time getting an audience outside of their own group.  And yet, the irony of this of course is that the younger people in our country today are part of the oldest world of all.  When they get to be in their fifties, sixties, and seventies, their cohort around their ages will make them the largest, oldest group in the history of our country, history of the world.  So this world is really the world we all share.  So, if we don’t turn our eyes towards it, we will be turning our eyes against the dominant reality of our lives.

Mohler:            The cover of Ted Fishman’s book does indeed have rather incendiary words in the subtitle The Aging of the World’s Population and How It Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival, and Nation Against Nation. Now, on the one hand that’s probably how the publisher thought the books would best be sold.  But on the other hand, you read the data, and it’s hard to come up with anything other than the fact that all these conflicts are certainly going to be present.  Most of them are going to be urgent.  And this is hardly an exhaustive list.

I enjoyed the conversation with Ted Fishman about the aging of the world’s population.  There are a lot of reports out there. There’s a good deal of data to consider.  There is for instance the cover story in Foreign Policy magazine just about a month ago on the graying of the world’s population and what this means.  Philip Longman a demographer who had given a lot of attention to these questions in that cover story addressed many of the same issues we talked about in this conversation.  But I’m less concerned with geopolitics than I am the way human beings live with what this means for families.  What it means for the lifespan of human beings, what it means for our understanding of what it means to be human and make a contribution.  What it means to live in community.  What it means for family.  And what it means for the church and for Christian institutions for the work of Christ around the world.  Let’s think about this.  What we have is a secular perspective offered here and there were all kinds of issues we could’ve tracked as we were in conversation with Ted Fishman.  But you know as I heard him speak, and as I read his book, and as I’ve listened to the larger cultural conversation, it seems to me that there are several issues that should be of particular Christian concern.  One of them is our understanding of the lifespan in the first place.  We’re the people who know that mortality is not an accident.  That it’s a part of what it means for us indeed to be finite human creatures.  And we understand that there is only so far that the human life span can be extended.  But it is rather remarkable isn’t it to just put it into historical perspective.  Only in the last few generations has there been any appreciable addition to the human life span.  Virtually everyone who lived for the thousands of years previous had about the same life expectancy but not now.  And not only do we have a longer life expectancy now by upwards of twenty-five to thirty years by some reckonings we also have the expectation that it could be longer.  Now from a Christian perspective the use of our time and the investment of our lives becomes a crucial issue here.  For a long time many have been concerned about the very idea of retirement.  The idea that we pour our lives into say thirty or thirty-five years of work and then we have earned by that expectation a certain number of years of leisure.  Now, the Christian worldview does acknowledge and honor leisure but within the larger context of a life that is making a contribution.  One of the things that’s going to have to be re-thought is this whole idea of retirement.  And, I believe from a Christian perspective we ought to be thinking not so much about retirement and certainly just giving ourselves to decades of leisure, but rather to deployment for the sake of the kingdom.  We should be seeing this as an opportunity where older persons, older believers can be far more invested in the lives of others because they now have the time, they now have the opportunity.  If there is a social contract and this has been the whole idea nationwide in terms of everything from social security to retirement and pension plans and all the rest, if there is a social contract it has to be involved with both sides of the equation.  And that means what contribution is going to be made.

Now, the Christian worldview comes at this with a very different understanding of the honor that is due to those who are of age.  The bible is very clear about that.  Age comes with honor.  There is a dignity, even a glory to a mane of silver hair according to scripture.  Now we look at the worry of the world looks at this and we come to understand that well there’s a prejudice against old age.  There’s a prejudice against the elderly and in many cases there’s a depreciation of what contribution can be made.  But I think the biggest reason for that isn’t that there’s just an innate prejudice against the old, I think it’s the breakdown of community.  I think it’s the breakdown of relationships.  I think it is because the aged, just taking them as a demographic, segment, or cohort, are ambiguous and anonymous.  I think what’s missing is relationships.  The church is supposed to be the trans-generational people of God.  The people of God who gather together in visible communities which involve persons of every age group, the church is supposed to be made up of the persons who know why marriage and family are important.  And if the conversation with Ted Fishman underlined anything it should, as we think about it, underline the damage that comes to a Christian community, to Christian families, and indeed even to human dignity by separating and adamistically  dividing the family such that you do not have the inter-generational kind of investment in a relationships that once were present.

You know one of the situations that has fed this is urbanization, you add to that industrialization and those things by the way go together.  And then suburbanization, well all kinds of izations if you’re just going to look at it sociologically, but one of the things that has happened in the midst of all of this is that people are no longer living together with the kind of organic relationship and inter-dependencies that was once the case.  I mean one of the most fascinating parts of this conversation to me was where Ted was talking about the fact that Japanese women face a decision as to whether they’re going to invest their limited and finite time nurturing investment in older persons.  And. after all they already exist, they’re already there, the obligation’s already present or their own children.  One of the reasons why Japanese women are having fewer children, Japanese couples having fewer children, is because the mother is investing so much time directed towards previous generations rather than toward future generations.  Now, that seems from a biblical perspective to come laden with all kinds of difficulties.  There is certainly the obligation which should be considered a glad obligation to take care of those of previous generations.  Those who deserve honor and those who have given themselves to the lives of the family.  Whose lives have been invested such that we actually have life and were nurtured and are in a position to invest in others.  But once persons are living so long and the dependencies become, well far more honorous and costly than had ever been anticipated in previous generations, there can be real cost to the ability to, well, have children, raise children, encourage having more children, and all the rest.  And then you have a self fulfilling prophecy.  Then, the problem of having a greater dependency upon a fewer number of workers and younger persons becomes even more exaggerated.

Now there are all kinds of issues here.  I can’t imagine how governments are going to deal with this.  Once you start to look at the statistical information, you realize that what we talked about in this conversation with Ted Fishman is just scratching the surface of the issues.  There is a social security crises, there is a pensions crises, and that’s just in the United States.  You go worldwide and it just gets well, even more exaggerated in terms of the consequences.  You look at nations like the Soviet Union and the former Soviet Union, now Russia and you come to understand there in Russia the population is aging so fast that many of the people looking at geopolitics say it’s unlikely that Russia can field any army of any considerable size in decades to come because there’s simply aren’t enough young men to populate that kind of army.  Ted Fishman actually pointed to some of those issues.  What does it mean for the missionary force?  For the church?  You know one of the realities we’re facing right now is that people are looking at the number of young people in church and saying where are they?  Well, about half of them never were.  In other words, the evangelical birthrate in the year 2010 is about half of what it was in 1960.  So there are about half as many teenagers with the same number of couples.  You start to look at that and you realize, well looking at deployment for the Great Commission, looking at prospects for marriage, looking at the expectation of the lifespan, there are all kinds of things that Christians are really going to need to think through.  We’re supposed to be the people who understand that human life has dignity.  Because every single human being is made in the image of God.  So we’re not looking at these questions just as matters of demographics, not just as matters of marketing , not just as matters of social tensions and political challenges, we’re looking at this because we know we’re dealing with the very real lives of very real people.

You know there’s another part of this book that just leapt out at me.  One of those statements that just catches your attention that certainly has immediately ramifications for the way we think about not only lifespan and marriage, and family, and the elderly, but church life.  That statement is this, Mr. Fishman quotes a specialist saying that the suburbs turn out to be a wonderful context and environment in which to raise children but a rather horrible environment in which to age.  Why?  Well, because you have all these separate homes.  You have the distances.  You have the dependence upon the automobile.  You start to look at all these things you realize you know there’s a lot to be said there.  And you start to look at the shape of American churches and congregations not only is it true that parents are looking at a divided amount of energy between taking care of their own parents and their own children, the so called sandwich generation, we’re going to find congregations facing many of the same issues.  We’re supposed to be the people who can think through these things.  Our task as Christians armed with all that the scripture teaches us and with the full measure of conviction we’re supposed to be the people who look at these things and say not only what would the world tell us, what would the demographers tell us, but what should we be saying to ourselves in terms of our responsibility.  The graying of the world is one thing.  The graying of the church is another.  And the graying of ourselves, well, that’s a reminder that we are all mortal.

When I was elected president into Southern Seminary in a press conference, I was thirty-three by the time I was elected, I was asked by one reporter, you’re thirty-three years old what do you intend to do about it?  My answer was, well it was the only answer I could conceive of giving in the pressure of the moment, I said I intend to age.  Well, now more than eighteen years later, I can tell you, I have fulfilled that pledge, and I’m still at it.  And we’re learning about this all together.  Thanks for listening to Thinking in Public.

I want to thank my guest Ted Fishman for joining me today, and before signing off I want to direct your attention to a special opportunity coming up on the campus of Southern Seminary.  On Friday and Saturday, February 11-12, Southern Seminary will be hosting the annual Give Me An Answer conference for college students.  This year’s theme is Recalibrate.  I will be speaking, our own Dr. Russell Moore, and special guest C.J. Mahaney will be joining us as well.  We want to challenge college students to focus on true theology by living a life of true obedience for more information visit

Until next time keep thinking.  I’m Albert Mohler.