We all know that Americans are living longer. But some of us are living much, much longer.
According to the latest Census, the number of people living to age 90 and beyond has tripled in the past three decades — to almost 2 million — and is likely to quadruple by 2050. And 70 percent of
nonagenarians are female.
Studying the gender gap in aging, sociologist Meika Loe, in >Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond, says that women may have a leg up when it comes to managing self-care in old age. Skills like cooking, cleaning, and caring for others clearly impact the ability to care for oneself.
In addition, nonagenarians maintain autonomy and control by asking others for help, which may be easier for women to do. But asking also requires good social networks. These tend to shrink as people age.
To counteract this problem, Loe shows how some elders have begun creating “informal care villages”— neighbor-helping-neighbor volunteer systems that allow individuals to share local resources at a cost savings or exchange personal services for free. They might trade driving or transportation for emotional support, for instance, or take turns delivering hot meals or checking in on one another.
Only 22 percent of elders live in institutional facilities. Forty percent of those 85 and older live by themselves. Informal care villages enable interdependence and actually increase elders’ ability to remain independent. They ensure that elders’ needs continue to be met, especially in a climate of limited federal support for aging at home.
It turns out that traditionally female skills, like asking for help, make a huge difference in the aging process. Men: take note.