Aging of population is currently one of the most acute issues in the world, and it affects all developed countries. This process seems irreversible, and brings in its wake global consequences that impact many aspects of human society. At the same time, the demographic situation in Russia and our attitude to old age have a number of peculiarities. We have invited demographers, sociologists, economists, psychologists and culture experts to share their thoughts on this theme.
The transition to post-industrial society is accompanied by the emergence of a system of values and norms that place an individual at the center of the family’s care and attention. In the new ethnic and cultural context, old age becomes analogous to youth — the age of joy and knowledge. In Russia, however, as the article Old Age as Institution by Alexey Levinson demonstrates, attitudes towards old age are still determined by archaic views (the elderly as bearers of the tribe’s wisdom should pass their knowledge on to the young, and then pass away) which exist side by side with the modern-day concept of the inalienable, though limited, right of every individual to life. Both these concepts have been symbolically merged in the notion of a retirement pension.
In his article The Quiet Revolution, Mikhail Denisenko investigates uneven population aging throughout the world and arrives at the conclusion that this inevitable process will lead to new complications in the geopolitical situation — half a century from now, a sparsely populated and wealthy “old” North will be confronted by a populous and poor “young” Africa. Moreover, demographic aging will inevitably force the aging countries to review their social contracts and, above all else, to overhaul the distributive pension system, since its shortcomings, in the population aging environment, can no longer be offset by the traditional redistribution of resources within family groups.
Exploring the awareness of a sample of Russians in 1994 about nine events that occurred within the past 60 years, Howard Schuman, Ph.D. and Amy D. Corning in the article Collective Knowledge of Public Events: The Soviet Era from the Great Purge to Glasnost consider three competing hypotheses about how knowledge relates to age: a) adolescence and early adulthood constitute a critical age for acquiring knowledge of public events; b) the unique content of an event creates age relations; and c) knowledge is influenced primarily by a “period effect” that can extend learning over almost the entire age range of a population experiencing an event. The authors also hypothesize that “years of education” have two different meanings in relation to knowledge: one about the socialization that promotes state-approved images of the past, and the other about the development of a cognitive sophistication that challenges such images. Partial support for each hypothesis is reported, and the relation of collective knowledge to collective memory is also considered.
The article In Praise of Old Age by Anatoly Vishnevsky challenges the myth that population aging is a major factor in the demographic crisis experienced by all countries with a low birth rate. The author contends that this should be regarded not as a transient crisis, but rather as a regular evolutionary process, inextricable from other major changes which constitute the essence of a demographic transition leading to the creation of an entirely new “time-table” for a generation’s life. The attendant shift of the working years towards older ages offers an opportunity to extend the years of education — a period, crucial for the creation of modern human capital.
OZ presents a synopsis of the book Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders by Mary Pipher. This fictionalized research study, characterized by a self-confessed subjectivity, is based on the author’s personal experience as a practicing psychiatrist. The book is designed primarily for American post-war baby boomers, i.e. her contemporaries. Appealing to today’s 40-50 year olds to make a greater effort in seeking understanding with their elderly parents, the book offers much valuable practical guidance to help foster better relations between generations.
Utilizing a system of structural indicators (the elderly age group share in the overall population, aging index, demographic burden), Gayane Safarova in her article The Aging of Russia’s Population: Demographic Aspects scrutinizes the process of population aging in Russia. The article demonstrates an uneven aging pattern among different regions of Russia, compares Russia’s aging indicators to those of economically developed countries and, based on the analysis of mortality rates in different age groups, investigates life expectancy for the elderly. Also discussed is the impact of population aging on the development of a social policy.
The Outlook for Natality in Russia: Second Demographic Transition by Sergey Zakharov looks at the process of a demographic and family transformation, which has been taking place in Russia in the past few decades, against the backdrop of similar, albeit more profound, processes affecting all developed European countries. The outcome of these changes has been that the social control over demographic and family behavior is gradually shifting from the institutional/collective to the individual level: control over the individual, exercised by the state, church, and rural communities, has been gradually giving way to self-control, thereby greatly expanding an individual’s freedom of choice in everything that concerns his or her private life.
At what age do Russians begin to regard themselves as elderly? Is this related to retirement on pension? What can present-day Russian pensioners afford, how do their life-style and interests alter? What in general characterizes aging and old age in modern-day Russia? In the article The Social, Material and Emotional Climate of Old Age in Russia, Lyudmila Presnyakova attempts to provide answers to these and other questions by probing the findings of the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) polls conducted in 2004-2005.
The article Social Services for the Elderly, and Community Development: Western Experience and Russian Practice by Irina Grigorieva considers the difficulties surrounding a transition, currently taking place in developed countries, from state-funded social security and commercial insurance schemes to a system of community-based care for the elderly. In Russia, this changeover is hampered by local cultural stereotypes and an absence of generally applicable practices of conflict resolution.
Although it has been proven beyond doubt that the elderly have a development potential, our society is clinging to its fear of aging. In her article The Spawn of Misconceptions: The Elderly and Old Age, Olga Krasnova contends that this is a result of negative age-related stereotypes that form gut level attitudes towards old age, play a crucial role in institutionalizing ageism and even influence scientific views about older age. Stereotyped notions of older age are reproduced both in social policy, and in kitchen-sink and mass culture, thereby adversely affecting the personal values and self-esteem of elderly people. Overcoming the stereotypes is an important factor in improving the quality of life in old age.
The issues of several generations living under the same roof are discussed by Elena Vovk in her article Old Folks in the Family: Peculiarities of Intergenerational Relations. It seems that the commonly held image of an idyllic old age, with grandma and grandpa nurturing the grandchildren, is fast becoming outdated. And it is by no means clear whether it is the old or the young who have benefited most from this. “Communication between generations within the family should be intensive enough — yet interspersed to a degree,” the author believes.
The current issue of OZ contains a synopsis of the book As Parents Age: A Psychological and Practical Guide by American psychotherapist Joseph A. Ilardo, Ph.D. The book is written in the form of a manual for adult children whose parents are either approaching or have attained old age. Aging is a multifaceted process, but people mostly focus on the medical aspects of old age, whereas in fact, for family members, the aging of their parents is a problem far more complex than just the issues of sickness. The book is based on the author’s many years of practice and offers guidance that is not medical, but rather psychological and social in nature. How should adult children cope with feelings of frustration and guilt, how to overcome alienation setting in between family members of different generations, what to do if elderly parents develop psychiatric conditions, how to cope with the grief caused by their death — this roughly is the range of issues discussed in the book.
Evgeny Gontmakher, Doctor of Economics, Director, Russian Center for Social Studies and Innovation analyzes the state of affairs brought about by the monetization of benefits. He details the history of introducing the benefits in Russia in 1991-1993, as well as subsequent attempts to carry through the monetization in one form or the other. Monetization is discussed from the political perspective in the context of general budgetary issues.
The article How to Raise Pension Age in Russia by Oksana Sinyavskaya looks at the issue of changing the legal and actual pension age levels. Probing into the arguments for and against an increase in retirement age, the author concludes that this move, while unavoidable in the future, is demographically viable only in the case of women. One should begin by raising the actual age when pensions can be claimed, which in Russia is much lower than the legal pension age. In order to do this, one should reform the system of early pensions while increasing the legal pension age for women to 60 years. Advance planning of this reform will allow for necessary adjustments to be introduced to the employment policy.
Tatiana Maleva and Oksana Sinyavskaya in the article Pension Reform in Russia: Concerning the Political Economy of Populism analyze the reasons behind a major review of the basic tenets of the Russian pension sphere and an overhaul of its institutions, while examining attempts to find an effective model for a pension system. Looking at the history of world discussion on the issue, the authors consider possible options for the state pension strategy and weigh the impact that significant socio-economic events, such as the “monetization of benefits”, may have on the pension sphere. A lot of focus is also given to the initial results of the reforms and to the discussion of what lies in store for the Russian pension system.
The article A Review of Foreign Pension Systems by Anna Gryzlova and Evgeny Yanenko examines the most efficient and stable pension systems in western countries (Sweden, Great Britain, France), and demonstrates the tendencies of pension system development in countries where living standards are comparable to those of Russia (Kazakhstan, Ukraine).
Valery Gartung, Member of State Duma, Chairman of the Russian Party of Pensioners asserts that money for the pensions can be found right now; inter alia, pensions can be increased by tapping the Stabilization Fund. The money is a tool, it should be spent on improving the life of the most needy groups in society.
Attitudes to old age are sensitive to socio-cultural context; they should be viewed as a changing and shifting phenomenon. In his article Historical Attitudes Towards Old Age, Anton Smolkin analyzes the socio-cultural dynamics of attitudes towards old age in a broad historical context and offers his own interpretation of the social basis for shifting attitudes towards old age in a historical perspective.
Alexander Panchenko in the article The Image of Old Age in Russian Peasant Culture, maintains that traditional peasant culture treats old age as an indispensable period of preparation for death, associating it, on the one hand, with social and physical inadequacy, and on the other hand, with special knowledge and skills of religious and magical nature.
In her essay Old Age Has Happened: A Model and Anti-Model of Indian Old Age, Irina Glushkova takes a diachronic look at the Indian cultural model of aging and old age, making use of extensive material ranging from mythological texts and folklore to modern drama and social and ethnologic research conducted in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. Along with the “perfect scheme” which determines the traditional status of old age, the author describes its numerous transgressions in a “nonperfect life” (using, inter alia, the example of political gerontocracy in India’s higher echelons of power) and discovers the emergence of an antimodel which in many ways runs contrary to established conceptions of the cultural norms of Indian society.
The article About «Chinese Ceremonies», the Cult of Ancestors and Old Age in China by Ilya Smirnov takes an in-depth look at old age veneration in traditional China, describing its archaic roots (the cult of ancestors) and the Confucian principle of filial piety (xiao). As illustrations, the author cites numerous legends about filially pious children, as well as verses by Chinese poets deliberating on the theme of old age.
Gamid Bulatov in the article Attitudes towards the Elderly and Longevity in the Caucasus takes as his basis the comparative psychosocial research on elderly and long-lived people, conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Kostroma Region and the Caucasus, and demonstrates that unlike their Kostroma counterparts, the Caucasus elderly live in a family environment, surrounded by the respect of the community. They are therefore almost completely spared the feeling of uncertainty and anxiety engendered by the fear of social status erosion related to aging. The process of growing old and the attendant possible physical frailties produce no adverse effect on the psyche of the Caucasus elderly, and this seems to have a direct bearing on the phenomenon of longevity.
THE COUNTRY OF OZ
Sergey Dubinin, former Chairman of the Central Bank of Russia offers his views on events that took place in Russia in the 90s. He analyzes the outcome of those turbulent closing years of a revolution that lasted a whole century, and attempts to draw lessons that would help avoid a lapse into yet another revolutionary situation.
In his article TV in the Mechanism of Terror, the well-known sociologist Daniil Dondurey shares his thoughts on the theme of “terror and the media”. In the post-industrial media society, television is not only a provider of information, but can also be a major tool in the mechanism of terror — a weapon of mass psychological destruction. The author analyzes Russian television’s reporting of events in Beslan, compares it to that of the western media, and offers his own recommendations on ways to prepare TV for future coverage of events related to possible terrorist attacks.
Gennady Aksyonov in the article The Word and Deed of the Church provides a critical reappraisal of the official — and most widely held — version of Russian history. The main object of the author’s demythifying criticism is the exaggerated and idealized role of the Orthodox church. In the author’s opinion, the Russian Church has not succeeded in any of its proclaimed exulted missions of morally improving the people; on the contrary, the Church itself was constantly engaged in the very sins of greed and lust for power that it outwardly condemned. The Catholic Church, however, though by no means depicted by the author in a radiant light, has, in his opinion, developed in a much more organic and constructive way, and, more importantly, has been more in keeping with the Christian tenets it preached.
Vera Milchina publishes the 1838 correspondence between Chief of Gendarmes A. H. Benkendorf and the Kiev Governor-General D. G. Bibikov, revealing an unknown page in “police semiotics”. Count Benkendorf recommended to his subordinates a peculiar method designed to counteract the wearing of French (Jeune France) beards and imperials, which at the time were a sign of liberal ideas. The plan was to obligate the lower ranks of the police to grow such beards.