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Should Age Matter? How 65 Came to Be Old and Old Came to Be Ill

Old_Mennonite_Couple_Pennsylvania_1942.jpg
U.S. government photographer Marjory Collins

Baby boomers, 78 million strong, are turning 65 at a rate of 4 million per year. The press, the government, and the medical community claim, often and loudly, that these numbers augur a mass dependency crisis. Such spokesmen envision a world of decrepit elders afflicted with chronic disease slurping their way through the country’s resources. This month historian Tamara Mann explores how, in the United States, the so-called “geriatric crisis” is less related to age itself than to the relationship between old age and government funds, particularly Medicare. She explains how 65 became a federal marker of old age and why health insurance came to be offered as the best solution to the problems afflicting America’s elders.

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