87 year old Indian man wants to pursue sociology degree

I was intrigued when I saw a story describing the interest an 87 year old Indian man has in pursuing a sociology degree:

Sudan is perhaps the oldest man in the country to appear for the BA (Part II) exams of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). The students and invigilators could not hide their joy at seeing the old man bubbling with enthusiasm to pass the examination.

Born in 1925, Sudan completed his matriculation in 1941 and soon got a job in the postal department.After retiring from services in 1983 as post master for Jammu circle, he started his own life insurance marketing services…

“I got excited when I watched my grandchildren studying. I wanted to emulate them and so I decided to join them and pursue my higher education,” said Sudan…

Sudan wants to pursue research in sociology after completing his graduation and masters. “My first target is graduation and then masters. If I am alive I will go for research in this subject,” he said.

It would be interesting to hear why exactly this man is interested in sociology. Did he realize after 87 years that there is still plenty to learn about human interaction? Is there a particular puzzle about people that still interests him? Is there something in particular that he saw that he wants to explain? His explanation could also be related to a common charge against sociology: “it’s just all common sense.” One can assume this 87 year old man is not happy enough with his “common sense” and wants to find out more.

Another question of mine: does the average 87 year old have more insight into human nature and behavior than younger people? In other words, how much does life experience really contribute to understanding the world? I would guess life experience can get you somewhere but simply growing older doesn’t necessarily lead to wisdom.

A growing number of “encore careers”

Retirement is an interesting topic these days in the United States: can people retire after the losses in the recent economic crisis? How will society pay for Social Security and medical benefits when all those Baby Boomers retire? How will states (and other organizations) pay for pensions that have been underfunded?

One answer: have those who have retired enter an “encore career.”

Daly is part of the growing “encore careers” movement — an effort to match older workers who can’t or don’t want to retire with public service jobs that benefit society. The movement, begun in the late 1990s, has spawned non-profit groups and programs from Boston to Portland, Ore., aimed at helping older workers find new work. Many of the programs are run by people who have made the transition.

At a time when 77 million Baby Boomers ages 46-65 are moving toward traditional retirement age, analysts say the movement could grow exponentially in the coming decades. A 2008 survey by MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, a national think tank on boomers and work, found more than 5 million Americans in encore careers. Half of those ages 44-70 expressed interest in them.

Moving from one career to a more altruistic job late in life isn’t easy, however. Analysts say there aren’t enough of those jobs yet, the pay is usually low and employers often favor younger applicants.

It seems to me that there is a larger issue underlying these practical obstacles: as a society, do we value the kinds of contributions older citizens can make? Those who have retired or are nearing retirement have a wealth of experience, related to jobs and working but also a variety of important life lessons and skills,  that the rest of society could benefit from. But if we are a society that tends to value youth and novelty, then these encore careers might not be something we encourage.

Ultimately, a movement like this could end up being a nice solution to some of the demographic and financial issues that face the country in the next few decades. If the number of these jobs could grow, those who have retired can share their experiences and wisdom while also earning some money in order to ease the financial burden on broader society.

Projecting the Muslim population in 2030 around the world

Pew has a new report on projecting the Muslim population around the world for 2030. You can look at separate reports by region and there is a lot of interesting information. If you look at the data for the United States, the prediction is that there will be 6.2 million Muslims by 2030. This is still a relatively small percentage compared to the total population though this would be a 140% increase. The numbers for Europe are quite different: the projection is France, Belgium, and Russia will be more than 10% Muslim.

Lots of good data here on everything from fertility rates to migration to age breakdowns.

Older age = more wisdom, happiness

In a youth-oriented culture like that of the United States, growing older may not appear appealing to many. But recent research suggests that growing older leads to more wisdom and increased levels of happiness:

Contrary to largely gloomy cultural perceptions, growing old brings some benefits, notably emotional and cognitive stability. Laura Carstensen, a Stanford social psychologist, calls this the “well-being paradox.” Although adults older than 65 face challenges to body and brain, the 70s and 80s also bring an abundance of social and emotional knowledge, qualities scientists are beginning to define as wisdom. As Carstensen and another social psychologist, Fredda Blanchard-Fields of the Georgia Institute of Technology, have shown, adults gain a toolbox of social and emotional instincts as they age. According to Blanchard-Fields, seniors acquire a feel, an enhanced sense of knowing right from wrong, and therefore a way to make sound life decisions.

That may help explain the finding that old age correlates with happiness. A study published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found a U-shaped relationship between happiness and age: Adults were happiest in youth and again in their 70s and early 80s, and least happy in middle age. A 2007 University of Chicago study similarly concluded that rates of happiness — “the degree to which a person evaluates the overall quality of his present life positively” — crept upward from age 65 to 85 and beyond, in both sexes.

These are interesting findings. Now how could American culture go about showing and sharing these benefits of growing old? Wisdom, in particular, might be a challenge to portray in commercial advertisements.

Also, there is an interesting discussion in the article about how to define and measure “wisdom.”