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Ageism: It Does Not Make Sense to Invest in Old Age

Have we become any better at taking care of older people than we were decades ago when our life spans were significantly shorter?

The question is posed by UA magazine who recently interviewed professor Rudi Westendorp, and about ageism, he said:

“I think there must be a deep, routed, explanation for ageism other than self-enrichment or just blunt ignorance. From an evolutionary reasoning, it is the number of offspring, your genetic legacy, that matters. Life, of which humans are just an example of, is successful when it has an intrinsic program that invests in fitness, or else it just goes extinct.

If we combine this idea with the principle of economics, the struggle of distributing means when resources are limited, we can ask whether it makes sense to invest in old age when the progeny has reached sexual maturity. The answer is no. Investments in a good old age do not contribute to the number or outcome of the offspring and, thus, are irrelevant from an evolutionary perspective. It is even cruel for us to grow older.”

This points to the blueprint of our bodies. We are not built for the long term, but for now, ready to have sex. That is why after the age of 40, when the kids get out of the house, a derailment of all bodily systems sets in, presenting itself in limitations, disease and disabilities.

“Our brains are also optimised for fitness. We like to partner, have sex, want to start a family and feel proud when the little ones flourish. Investing in offspring is deeply ingrained in our behaviour. At that point, it doesn’t make sense to worry about old-age, from an evolutionary point of view.
It is a fact that we usually like kids but we do not instinctively care about older people. This is reflected in cultural patterns – rites of passage – where older people are neglected when conditions are harsh and means are insufficient to keep everybody alive.

Under nowadays conditions, we have the means to invest in all generations without direct costs at our fitness. But the hard wiring of our brains is not different from the generations before us. Therefore, only culture can make a difference in how we overcome ageism. It is not without reason that all “great” books mention that you have to take care of your parents. Otherwise, they are too easily forgotten.”

Get the full interview in UA Magazine