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Controversy 8
Should Age or Need Be the Basis for
(c) 2011, SAGE Publications, Inc.
Generational Equity
• Two different meanings of generation:
o (1) an age specific group, such as “older adults” or “children
under age 18”
o Or, (2) a historical cohort consisting of a group of people
born in the same year or in a certain period (e.g., those who
experienced the Great Depression or World War II)
• Four issues underlie generational equity:
1.Questions about the allocation of resources between older
adults and children
2.Concerns about large government deficits
3.Controversies over rationing health care resources
4.Questions about the fairness of how Social Security is
(c) 2011, SAGE Publications, Inc.
Poverty Among the Old
• Over the past 30 years, there has been a large
reduction in poverty rates among the older adults in
the United States
Although the most gains in income for people were in the 1960s
and 1970s
• Supplemental Security Income (SSI)—a cash
benefit program for the older poor, blind, and
SSI is a means-tested program—it is only available if your income
and assets fall below a designated range
(c) 2011, SAGE Publications, Inc.
Poverty Among Children and
Young People
• International comparison shows that U.S.
poverty rates among children are higher than
every other industrial nation in the world
This high poverty rate may be caused by family
structure, unemployment, and/or declining wages
o Some people also blame the declining well-being
of children on the voting power of older adults
 Families with children today form a smaller part of the
electorate than in the past
(c) 2011, SAGE Publications, Inc.
Taxation and Power
• The U.S.’s tax system has far-reaching impacts on different
age groups and cohorts
• Many “tax breaks,” or “tax expenditures,” go disproportionately
to older people with higher incomes
The aged poor get only 2% of the benefits from tax breaks
• Generational accounting—analyzes how government tax and
spending policies affect different cohorts
Adds up all the taxes paid to federal, state, and local governments over a
lifetime, then subtracts benefits received such as Social Security,
Medicare, and schooling
• Must distinguish between the notion of conflict between
generations and competition for different public programs
(c) 2011, SAGE Publications, Inc.
The Least-Advantaged
Older Adults
• How do we define “least-advantaged” among
older adults? Possible answers include the
The entire older population
People above a certain age
Elders in minority ethnic groups
Older women
Older adults living in rural or inner-city areas
The physically or mentally frail
Older people who are vulnerable to abuse or neglect
(c) 2011, SAGE Publications, Inc.
The Least-Advantaged
Older Adults (cont.)
• Today there are many people in their 60s and 70s
who are healthy and active
The so-called well-derly cause some people to argue
that disability and frailty, not chronological age, should be
the basis of access to services
• Socioeconomic Status (SES)—a term used by
sociologists to describe what is often known as
“social class”
• Cumulative disadvantage—lower SES over the
life course tends to produce cumulative
disadvantage, which is perpetuated in old age
(c) 2011, SAGE Publications, Inc.
The Targeting Debate
• Cost-sharing—an approach that combines elements
of both means testing and taxation
• The Older Americans Act (OAA) directs the agingservice network to target its services to:
“Individuals with the greatest economic or social needs, with
particular attention to low-income minority individuals”
• But there is still debate over how universal programs
such as the OAA and Social Security can properly give
preference to some needy groups
(c) 2011, SAGE Publications, Inc.
Reading 34:
Growing Older
Thurow makes some strong recommendations
about generational equity in “Growing
Older.” What are these recommendations and
how do you respond to them?
(c) 2011, SAGE Publications, Inc.
Reading 35: Will America Grow Up
Before It Grows Old?
What does Peterson mean when he asks the
question, “Will America grow up before it grows
old?” To his way of thinking about generational
equity, what will the indicators be that America
has “grown up”?
(c) 2011, SAGE Publications, Inc.
Reading 36: “Generational Equity”
and the New Victim Blaming
Minkler takes on the generational equity debate
from a critical standpoint, one that sees it as
socially constructed and dangerous. What are
some of the central points in her argument?
(c) 2011, SAGE Publications, Inc.
Reading 37:
The Generational Equity Debate
The authors of this reading contrast two ways of
framing the debate regarding public policy
toward older adults—the “generational equity
frame” and the “generational interdependence
frame.” What are the key assertions of these
two frames? What side do you come down on?
(c) 2011, SAGE Publications, Inc.