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John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Aging Society Research Network Launch Speech Gerontological Society of American Convention November 21, 2008 Good afternoon. I am Mike Stegman, director of policy for the MacArthur Foundation. In setting the stage for this afternoon’s event, I invite you to think about this demographic reality. In the past century U.S. life expectancy at birth has climbed from 47 to 77 years. After age 65 not only has life expectancy continued to rise for most Americans, but more importantly the proportion of healthy life has risen even faster as a consequence of the progressive compression of morbidity. And this longevity dividend is leveraged substantially by the aging of the baby boomers, resulting in a dramatic restructuring of our society. And so I ask you to imagine a society with more walkers than strollers; where there will be as many people over 85 as the current population of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago combined, and as many centenarians as there are now people in Washington, DC. This may well be the United States of America in 2050. The policies and institutions of our current society are not designed to cope with the challenges and opportunities of the future America. It is against this backdrop that I welcome you – members of the Gerontological Society of America, the preeminent organization concerned with the implications of an aging society, 1 to this afternoon’s event where I will formally announce the creation of a new MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society. It will be directed by Dr. John Rowe, and after my remarks, he will moderate a panel of network members who will introduce you to the exciting work already underway and planned for the project. I will say a bit more about the network in a moment, but first let me tell you about MacArthur and about our history with such interdisciplinary research efforts. I will close my remarks by placing the Aging Society Network in the 1 st (61 annual scientific meeting of GSA—with this year’s theme Resilience in an Aging Society: Risks and Opportunities" 1 context of two other initiatives that address this country’s major fiscal challenge and its profound implications for our way of life. MacArthur was established in 1978 with funds given by John MacArthur with a broad mandate to “improve the human condition.” At year end 2007, our assets stood at $6.9 billion – less of course today – and we make grants and program-related investments of $300 million a year in 60 countries. Based in Chicago, we have offices in Mexico, Nigeria, India, Russia and, soon, China. We are best known for the MacArthur Fellowships – the “genius awards” – and our support for public radio and television. But that is only a small part of what we do. Our international work focuses on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development; international peace and security - principally, reducing threats of weapons of mass destruction; population and reproductive health; and human rights and the creation of an international system of justice. We are also interested in migration and the mobility of people worldwide. Within the U.S, MacArthur is active in urban revitalization and the preservation of affordable rental housing;. juvenile justice reform and in education, where our current focus is how technology, especially digital media, is changing how young people think, learn, interact with others and make critical judgments. We also support special projects on important domestic policy issues. Our topic today is one of those projects. MacArthur has always placed a premium on creativity, originality, and intellectual exploration. Indeed, about a quarter of our US work is in research, often through interdisciplinary research networks where scholars and practitioners are encouraged to tackle complex questions that we think deserve study. Many of those questions have related to stages in the life course, their characteristics, opportunities and challenges. Networks have examined the institutions that support the transitions through life’s stages — the family, schools, and other civic and social organizations critical to individual and family well-being. The networks typically run from 7 to 10 years and attract the best scholars and practitioners from many disciplines. Some examples: The Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development looked at the relationship between exceptionally stressful experiences early in life, brain 2 development and long-term consequences for a child's learning, behavior, and physical and mental health. The Successful Pathways through Middle Childhood Network laid the groundwork for research on the impacts of early childhood education and helped fuel the pre-school movement that continues to gain strength across the country. Our Network on Transitions to Adulthood is drawing attention to a new stage in life, an extended period of time between adolescence and adulthood characterized by delayed marriage and family formation, a cycling in and out of the workforce, and greater and more extended reliance on parental resources — all with significant consequences for family and institutions. Other networks included one on Successful Mid-Life Development, and its now federally supported national longitudinal Survey of Midlife Development in the United States, as well as one of the most influential, the Research Network on Successful Aging. Under Jack Rowe’s leadership, this effort helped change America’s concept of aging from a period of inevitable decline to a more nuanced and positive view of life’s possibilities well beyond the sixties and seventies. The network’s 10 years of research showed that the influence of genetics shrinks proportionately as we age, while social and physical habits – lifestyle and attitude – are increasingly important to our mental and physical health. Through significant, steady, often decade-long, support from MacArthur, each of the networks has stimulated new ways of looking at complex questions important to our society, created a stronger intellectual base for those who work in a variety of fields, and, in many cases, offered solid evidence that has changed policy and practice. Almost 20 years ago, the Network on Successful Aging concentrated its efforts on the individual lifespan and the potential for personal fulfillment. Its ideas were timely, provocative, and fruitful, and the last chapter of its seminal book was prophetic. 3 Jack Rowe, Bob Kahn and their colleagues foresaw the implications for society of changing demographics. In less than a century, life expectancy in the developed world has increased by an average of 30 years. It is projected that the number of Americans aged 62 and older will increase from 45 million to nearly 80 million over the next 20 years. The sheer scale of this trend means that aging is no longer a matter of how individuals adapt to the aging process, but about how society adapts to the irreversible changes underway. So I am pleased to announce today that MacArthur has dedicated an initial $4 million over three years to create a Research Network on an Aging Society to explore the significant societal, institutional and policy challenges that arise from these changing demographics. And, if the Aging Society Network’s research productivity matches that of its predecessors, which I am confident it will, our total investment is likely to increase to more than $10 million for up to seven years. The work is also likely to attract attention from other funders, extending its depth and reach. We are fortunate that Jack Rowe has agreed to chair the new network. He did a superb job with the Network on Successful Aging, which attracted outstanding scholars, framed the questions through a fresh lens, sponsored rigorous research and translated its findings into practical policy choices. He is doing it again, as you will see in this afternoon’s panel. The Network’s core members represent a wide range of disciplines – gerontology, psychology and health behavior, macroeconomics and public policy, social epidemiology, cognitive neuroscience, demography, and aging policy and are drawn from the United States and Europe The Network will devote its attention to the societal implications of lengthened life expectancy, and disability-free years of survival. In 2008, the Social Security Administration Trustees forecast that life expectancy will rise from current levels of 75.4 for males and 79.9 for females to 80.0 and 83.4 years, respectively, by 2050. A first task for the Network has been to generate alternative life expectancy forecasts for both 2030 and 2050. These forecasts take into account factors that could increase the life-span (such as advances in the treatment of age-related disorders, especially Alzheimer’s; fewer smokers, or interventions that retard the aging process 4 – advances that will be more likely when existing disparities in healthcare by race and income in the U.S. are reduced, as they must be) or decrease it (such as greater obesity, diabetes or an influenza pandemic). The panel will discuss a significant difference between these forecasts and official government projections. The Network will address the broad social implications of this uncharted demographic territory, examining questions like: how can a large, longer- living, elderly population maintain its productivity and contribute to its own and society’s well-being? How will it change our economy, culture, and politics? Over time, will America look better, worse, or just different? And how can public policies — in immigration, work force development, health care, and other areas — and reform of our civic institutions, positively affect the future? Major changes are projected in the ethnic and racial composition of American society, changes that will likely have many significant effects. The Network will explore how diversity and inequalities of many kinds will influence the structure, economy, and overall health of an Aging Society and what new policies and changes in our social, economic, and cultural institutions could facilitate greater integration. One intriguing idea the network will explore is whether we need to rethink how society redistributes human activities over the lifespan. Does it really make sense, with a lifespan of 85 years or more, to put so much pressure on the decades of the 20s and early 30s – completing education, forming a family, starting a career, exploring civic engagement and more? A more fluid arrangement, less clearly sequential, may be more sensible. But what would that look like – a worthy topic that will draw from the wisdom of all of our MacArthur networks on the life course. This Network is likely to make a significant contribution on its own, but let me put it in the context of two complementary MacArthur initiatives stimulated by the demographic trends I have been discussing. President-elect Obama faces a daunting challenge. According to some projections, unless Congress and the President take action soon, federal spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the federal debt may consume all federal revenues as early as 2030, while requiring cuts in all non-entitlement programs at an even earlier date. This 5 possibility is based on official population forecasts that may underestimate future increases in life expectancy that could significantly worsen the fiscal impact of our aging society. This is a serious problem because rapidly increasing annual deficits will certainly reduce future economic growth and restrict policy choices significantly. To help address this, we are supporting a joint National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Public Administration expert committee to examine ways to restore America’s long-term fiscal health. The committee, whose work is now well underway, will produce by December 2009 baseline projections of the federal deficit and debt, options to address the burgeoning federal deficit and several policy scenarios, reflecting the values and preferences of significant segments of the American population, that lead to fiscal health. Clearly, our hope of meeting America’s most urgent social and economic needs and keeping the country secure depend on using scarce resources wisely. Hard economic times often reinforce an undercurrent of popular and political opinion that often sees the interests of those in need at odds with the interests of the larger society. MacArthur believes that this is a false dichotomy, and that there is increasing evidence to the contrary. Therefore, a second special policy project, called the Power of Measuring Social Benefits, is using significant cost benefit studies to test the hypothesis that effective social policies not only help those in need or at risk, but yield sizable benefits to the larger society – benefits that can significantly exceed costs and in any instances generate public returns long after assistance has ended. So MacArthur’s strategy is to develop at least one high-quality benefit-cost study in each of our domestic interests and in other areas where the policy environment is ripe for action. We recognize that merely expanding the supply of social benefit-cost studies will have little policy impact. So we are also working to make the products more useful for policy purposes, and encourage government agencies to require evidence of effectiveness and benefits to society as a basis for budgeting and priority setting. In undertaking this project, it was my strong belief – certainly my hope – that the studies would reveal a pattern: well-run public programs for people in trouble or in need would help individuals but also benefit the larger 6 society. Could this be a new paradigm that would animate the next wave of domestic reform and help revive our faith in effective government? Here my own sense of the American people comes through. With no apologies, I believe that, when the people have good information they can trust, they make sensible decisions – decisions that reflect the core values of the charter documents of our society. So we hope these three projects will provide a powerful picture of how demographic, social and economic forces are bringing America to a crossroads. We face these realities and work together on constructive solutions, or we lose control of our destiny and our dreams of a fairer nation, one that is more prosperous, healthy and secure. Thank you. 7