As the life course currently is structured, old age is socially defined as a stage of life beginning in the early sixties, in which retirement from work and many other social responsibilities is expected. Few incentives exist for older persons to make productive contributions to the society, and obstacles to their engagement in productive activities exist. Consequently, large transfers from the working population to the retired are required, and potential contributions of the elderly to societal well-being are lost. Further, adult children often face a long period of being responsible for their aging dependent parents. Changes occurring in the older population challenge this existing arrangement. Not only is the ratio of the older to younger adults increasing, but also an increasing proportion of adults entering old age have the ability to make significant contributions (i.e. they are well educated, healthy, economically secure, and politically astute). Concern over this growing mismatch between older people's abilities and the roles they are expected to fill leads to a discussion of social policy. How might social policy increase the productivity of the elderly and/or reduce the burden of supporting a growing dependent older population. Three major categories of policies responsive to this question are considered. The outcome of these policy debates will significantly shape the future of aging in the United States.
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