8 reviews that cover the complexity of growing old.

book covers

Baily, Martin Neil. The retirement challenge: what’s wrong with America’s system and a sensible way to fix it, by Martin Neil Baily and Benjamin H. Harris. Oxford, 2022 (c2023). 304p bibl index ISBN 9780197639276, $29.95; ISBN 9780197639306 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2023

Bailey (emer., Brookings Institution) and Harris, a long-time economic advisor to Joe Biden, address the problems facing the US retirement system and propose solutions for policy makers and consumers. They assert that incremental reforms can preserve the current Social Security and Medicare systems, that retirement savings benefit capital growth and investment, and that retirement is a right. Tapping into their own expertise, they also solicit the advice of lawyers and economists for different perspectives. They acknowledge that many older staff members want to keep working despite ageist practices seeking to prevent that, and they encourage changing attitudes and policies to view seasoned employees as assets rather than liabilities. The disappearance of private pensions in today’s recession-prone economy necessitates heightened dependence on managed retirement structures like 401(k)s. Consumers must learn to supervise their own accounts or pay planners to do it. Although the authors sprinkle definitions of financial planning terms throughout (e.g., rollovers, defined-benefit pensions, wealth drawdowns), a glossary might assist readers, even at the risk of repetition. This book touts an ideal golden mean of spending, a balance between both the hoarding of assets and their profligate use. Although not an easy study, this crucial text will help readers who consult it several times. Summing Up: Essential. General readers through faculty; professionals. —F. J. Augustyn Jr., Library of Congress

Jecker, Nancy S. Ending midlife bias: new values for old age. Oxford, 2020. 360p bibl index ISBN 9780190949075, $39.95; ISBN 9780190949099 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2021

Jecker (Univ. of Washington School of Medicine) provides an in-depth, scholarly analysis of Western bioethics values considered across the life-span, but the emphasis is on old age. Jecker’s main argument is that values other than autonomy should be given more weight in stages other than midlife, and that failure to do so harms individuals and societies. These other values include trust (at the earliest stage) and dignity (in old age). Jecker proposes borrowing understandings of the life cycle from non-Western societies and using a broader, life-stage narrative approach to the life-span. Dignity, Jecker asserts, is consistently applicable across the life-span, and it is defined as having basic support for the capabilities essential to one’s life as a member of a particular species at a given time. Individual chapters explore global implications for caregivers of the elderly, identity changes over the life-span, and even duties to the dead. The author builds her arguments logically, anticipating objections and systematically addressing them with ethical humility. The book is clearly written, thoroughly referenced, historically grounded, and thought provoking. Jecker’s text will be welcomed by anyone with an interest in bioethics or aging who is willing to question the dominance customarily given to autonomy across the life-span. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. General readers. —M. D. Lagerwey, Western Michigan University

Lem, Ellyn A. Gray matters: finding meaning in the stories of later life. Rutgers, 2020. 288p bibl index ISBN 9781978806320, $69.95; ISBN 9781978806313 pbk, $29.95; ISBN 9781978806337 ebook, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic cast a global spotlight on the challenges of growing old, highlighting older adults’ heightened risk of illness, loneliness, and death. Yet these images unwittingly contribute to ageism and offer a one-dimensional view of old age. Lem (English and gender studies, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) digs deeply into what older adults’ lives are really like and how they are (mis)represented in popular culture, demonstrating that old age brings joys and opportunities for growth as well as challenges. Lem cites academic studies, the results of more than 200 interviews, and examples from literature, film, and television to generate a multifaceted portrayal of contemporary old age. Chapters focus on core areas of concern among older adults (and the social gerontologists who study them), including intergenerational relationships, housing and long-term care, memory loss, intimacy and romantic unions, gender roles, work and retirement, economic strains, and death. Lem pays careful attention to diversity among the older population, recognizing that “‘successful aging'” approaches often neglect disparities of social class, race, and sex. This illuminating book will be appreciated by anyone who is growing old, or who is committed to social changes that ensure a pleasant and productive old age for all. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers, advanced undergraduates through faculty, and professionals. —D. S. Carr, Boston University

Misztal, Barbara A. Later life: exploring aging through literature. Routledge, 2021. 192p bibl index (Routledge advances in sociology, 276) ISBN 9781351112833, $160.00; ISBN 9780815362258 ebook, $48.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE August 2021

Recognizing that being old (usually considered 65-plus) is a vital life stage, Misztal (emer., sociology, Univ. of Leicester, UK; author, Theories of Social Remembering, 2003) contends that older people should continue habits of earlier years. Curiosity, life-long learning, self-realization, and courage are especially important when combating boredom, bitterness, and increasing infirmities. Using an interdisciplinary method that combines social science and nonfiction, she asserts that literature helps one understand others’ experiences and use them as guides for overcoming one’s own life challenges. Despite the weight of memories of the past, older people should consciously strive to renegotiate their lives as circumstances and their status change. Misztal’s emphasis is on US and European (especially British) literary products. Her choice of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1952) is a good one, and this reviewer believes the book would have benefited from other American examples: Josephine Lawrence’s Years Are So Long (1934), which became the film Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), comes immediately to mind. Modifications in demographics have made study of older people more relevant. The present volume joins, for example, Samuel Lawrence’s Aging in America (CH, Jul’17, 54-5422). Summing Up: Recommended. All readers.—-F. J. Augustyn Jr., Library of Congress

Multiple pathways of cognitive aging: motivational and contextual influences. Oxford, 2021. 448p bibl indexes ISBN 9780197528976, $90.00; ISBN 9780197528983 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2022

This volume collects papers by European and North American scholars given at a small conference held in Warsaw in April 2019. Although there are occasional cross-references to other papers in the collection, each chapter can stand alone. Chapters focus on age-related cognitive changes and are organized into an introduction and three parts: motivational influences, contextual influences, and interventions to maintain cognitive functioning. Subthemes include resource allocation and management, costs and benefits of cognitive decisions, compensatory behaviors, and the importance of attention and perception. Given the interdisciplinary goals of the publication, at times one might wish for the broader accessibility that a glossary might provide. Strengths of the book include its overall coherence, detailed and respectful critiques of recent research studies, discussion of areas and methodologies for future research, clear chapter summaries, and an interdisciplinary, integrative, and nuanced approach. Contributors variously challenge assumptions and stereotypes about aging and cognition, provide suggestions for applying findings, discuss limitations of cross-sectional or correlational studies, and call for more stringent research on contextual, neurocognitive, neuroendocrine, social, or otherwise unexamined pathways. This volume’s overall approach should help readers parse aspects of cognition: memory, executive function, decision-making, judgment, and task performance. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. —M. D. Lagerwey, emeritus, Western Michigan University

Overtime: America’s aging workforce and the future of working longer, ed. by Lisa F. Berkman and Beth C. Truesdale. Oxford, 2022. 352p bibl index ISBN 9780197512067, $34.95; ISBN 9780197512081 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2023

An oft-proposed solution to the looming insolvency of the US Social Security trust fund is to increase the full retirement age of the program. This edited volume collects 14 chapters exploring, in an interdisciplinary fashion, the many undesirable ramifications of such a simplistic proposition. The editors assembled a formidable collection of experts from economics, epidemiology, organizational behavior, political science, psychology, and sociology to show how the costs and hardships likely to ensue from raising the retirement age would fall disproportionately on those who are already disadvantaged. The book is organized into four parts: an evaluation of who works, an assessment of employee-employer fit, an examination of employment in the context of family and workplace, and a contemplation of politics and future policy. The book’s scope is broad, covering retirement, retirement policy, health policy, and a good bit of labor economics. The data and statistics presented are up-to-date, and the essayists make useful international comparisons. The chapters in the book are well-written and scholarly in nature and will make valuable references for scholars and policy makers, but they are not too technical for undergraduate students. Summing Up: Recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty and practitioners. —K. J. Murphy, emeritus, Oakland University

Peace, Sheila. The environments of ageing: space, place and materiality. Policy Press, 2022. 410p ISBN 9781447310556, $139.95; ISBN 9781447310563 pbk, $45.95; ISBN 9781447321620 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2024

This bookis a unique treatment of person-environment interaction, environmental living, housing in late life, housing options, and the spatiality of aging. Peace’s work is a magnum opus on aging, space, and housing. While primarily focused on the United Kingdom, the included research summaries address concerns that affect the global and social characteristics of aging, the needs of urban versus rural environments, the aspirations and needs of the visually impaired, social-life support for people with high needs, and empirical research on retirement communities. In her discussion of person, Peace (emer., gerontology, Open Univ., England) is attentive to the boundaries of successful or activeaging, and she proposes third and fourth ages. Kurt Lewin’s Field Theory informs her considerations: behavior is the result of the individual and the environment. With regard to people approaching the thirdand fourth ages, Peace recommends that the reader consider the meaning of home for the intergenerational home and the age-related home. Are these person-held meanings the same? To what degree have living space and housing experts considered the person’s aspirations and needs when planning special care space? This book raises important questions for readers to engage. Summing Up: Recommended. Undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —L. R. Barley, York College, CUNY

Ranson, Gillian. Front-wave boomers: growing (very) old, staying connected, and reimagining aging. UBC Press, 2022. 192p bibl index ISBN 9780774890502 pbk, $22.95; ISBN 9780774890526 ebook, $22.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2022

Ranson (emer., Univ. of Calgary, Canada) paints a worrisome picture of aging for those approaching very old age—namely the cohort of people born after WW I. Through a series of interviews with individuals currently in early old age, she makes clear that people in the “front-wave boomer” population are highly diverse and have varied human and financial resources on which to rely as they move into late old age. Her informants have one shared characteristic: a desire to remain independent and avoid institutional care. Ranson describes age-related shifts in relationships with family and friends, highlighting the importance of both in achieving continued independence. In contrast to recent accounts of pandemic living, she provides examples of situations in which pandemic conditions and technology actually strengthened relationships for some. Structural societal change will be necessary to meet the needs of this rapidly enlarging, “very old” population. This is an easy read, though this reviewer wished for more information on the author’s methods and was disappointed in the citation style—rather than use numbered citations, the notes section lists information sources and comments on the pages where they appear throughout the volume. Appropriate for beginning students of geriatric health policy. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and lower-division undergraduates. —T. D. DeLapp, emerita, University of Alaska Anchorage