MS. STEAD SELLERS: Hello, and welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Frances Stead Sellers, a senior writer here at The Washington Post.
MR. FURMAN: Thanks for having me.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Well, we're delighted.
A word to our audience before our first question, you can send in your own questions for Jason by tweeting @PostLive. That's @PostLive. Send in questions, and we'll try to get to a few of them.
So, Jason, my first question is about the aging workforce. Americans are living longer and working longer. What's the economic impact of this trend?
MR. FURMAN: Look, it's actually been one of the things that's worked well in the economy in the last couple decades. It used to be that as people aged, they worked less and less. Starting around the 1980s, that actually turned around, and we've had a steady increase in people working longer. Now, if they were working longer because they were desperate and had to and would starve otherwise, we'd be worried, but it doesn't seem to be that. In part, it's that work is less physically demanding for many people now. In part, it's interesting, if your spouse works, you are more likely to both continue working rather than retire early.
So we have seen these longer work lives, and that enables people to have a higher income, and it's generally a good thing.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Is it good for productivity?
MR. FURMAN: You know, it goes both ways. Older workers, of course, have more experience, but often‑‑you'll often see a pattern of people retiring, but retiring isn't permanent. They'll unretire. They'll go back. They'll find another job, maybe something that's more meaningful, more fun, something else.
So, in terms of productivity, yeah, it's probably not the most important thing for our productivity, but we also need a lot of workers to run an economy too.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So I want to ask a little bit about downsides, though. Older workers that may be set in their ways‑‑we have an economy that depends upon innovation‑‑do they get in the way of younger people getting promotions or moving up or just doing things differently?
MR. FURMAN: Yeah. So it's a little bit less how long you're working and a little bit more the age structure that matters.
One of the reasons why Japan has had lower growth is not just its population is slowing, but you have this situation where you have a very top‑heavy workforce, and it's harder for your sort of 30‑, 40‑year‑old to move into the key management job if the 50‑, 60‑, or 70‑year‑old is not making way for them. So you definitely want internally, within your organization, people not to have to wait too long to be promoted.
The best way to solve that is to have more younger workers and to have less of a top‑heavy workforce. So more immigration was the main tool we would have in the United States. More births would be another one, if we knew how to do that. That's about‑‑
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So it's all about growth, right?
I'm sorry. Repeat that. I didn't mean to interrupt you.
MR. FURMAN: Well, I said more children, I think we know how to do that. It's just a matter of public policy where it gets harder.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Well, so talking about policy, looking ahead, I think by 2060, we expect life expectancy to be up to 85. It's around 79 now. We've had a little bit of a dip over the last couple of years, but are we doing the right things now to prepare for people living to be 85 and, of course, needing to retire at some point?
MR. FURMAN: Social Security's trust fund is exhausted in about a decade, and Medicare is exhausted even sooner than that. I think it's really important that Congress, the president get together and act to put those programs on a firm footing.
The good news is it doesn't require dramatic, radical changes. There are some tweaks you could make that would make them last much longer. Part of that is just simply taxing more and bringing more revenue into the system, but I think sending a signal to people that instead of, you know, you can start collecting benefits at 62, you can start at 64, and the normal retirement age goes up from 67, and maybe for people that really are in physically demanding jobs that might need to retire sooner, having a path for them. You don't need to keep a path for everyone just because a fraction of the population might have to retire at a younger age.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So you've had this very key job during the Obama administration as chairing the Council of Economic Advisors. What, in your view, is the proper role of government? You've talked about tweaks. You've talked about how we can incentivize people. Where does government belong in these decisions for individuals about how long they should work?
MR. FURMAN: Yeah. I mean, look, if you're talking about a 45‑ or 50‑year‑old, people are free to make whatever choice they want. If you're talking about a 70‑year‑old, government policy is inextricably bound in that decision in terms of the way Social Security is structured, our retirement plan. And so the government has to actually have a view on this question, and I think that view should be as you live longer, you should be able to have a longer retirement and also work more. You know, if you live an extra year, you can spend‑‑you know, work another six months and also have six more months to enjoy retirement.
I don't know exactly what the right ratio is, but public policy does need to have a view on that and build that view into Social Security.
Beyond that, there's some barriers to working.
Sometimes you might lose a job at age 55. You can't get a new one that's quite as good. Maybe the government could provide wage insurance to help you get into that new job. There's some other barriers and obstacles that the government can get out of the way. So it really does‑‑actually public policy matters here, and we need to figure out how to get it right.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So, speaking just in very broad terms for now, should government be incentivizing people to work longer or incentivizing retirement?
MR. FURMAN: I think over time, it should be incentivizing people to work longer, and already they are working longer. So I don't think this is a really draconian step I'm talking about. I'm saying maybe starting 20 years from now, you very gradually raise the retirement age. By the way, even when you raise the retirement age, you can still retire before it, but it would send a little bit of a signal about working.
But, you know, mostly this is a choice people are making for themselves, and people are making very different choices today than they were making 30 years ago. And they're making those different choices for very personal reasons.
I alluded to this briefly before, but it's really interesting. If you are traditionally a man that was working, married to a woman that wasn't, you would face a lot of pressure to retire.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: [Laughs]
MR. FURMAN: Now if you are a man, you're more likely to be married to a woman that's working too, and you both might continue working. You don't have, either of you, the same pressure to retire. You might have a couple decades ago. So those types of social changes are a really important part of the story here and should continue to drive a lot of it going forward.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So you've studied the labor markets, and I wanted to ask you a little bit more about taxes. What are the arguments for lowering taxes on older people?
MR. FURMAN: The main argument is that right now you are effectively taxed more when you're older than when you're working age. Now, why is that? The tax law is the same. It doesn't ask you how old you are, but if you're 45 and you put money into Social Security, you're probably going to get a higher benefit because of that. If you are 70 and you put more money into Social Security, you aren't going to get any of that money back. You're not going get a higher benefit because of it. And so Social Security taxes are effectively something you're not really getting credit for above a certain age, and so there's some argument for waiving them and trying to not overtax older people. The problem is that argument runs headlong into the fact that we don't have enough money going into Social Security right now. So you'd have to do a big enough reform if you wanted to address that issue.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: I wanted to ask you a little bit more about preparations for the future, because these are such long‑term trends, and we have governments that change every four or eight years, administrations that change every four or eight years. How can we‑‑or how can the administrations prepare for these enormous shifts that, you know, are decades in the making and will have implications for decades ahead?
MR. FURMAN: Yeah. I mean, they absolutely have to. Look, the one good thing here is it's very, very predictable. If you want to know how many 70‑year‑olds there are going to be 10 years from now, look at how many 60‑year‑olds there are now and make an adjustment for what the normal mortality pattern is.
The shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare are very well documented, very well understood, and so this is an area where there's a lot of things that are really hard to predict and really hard to understand. This is among the most predictable phenomenon in the economy, and so there's no reason to wait.
And, in fact, government has been doing things. It has taken steps that have enabled more people to choose to continue to work, and I think that's been a wonderful thing.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: You talked about people retiring and unretiring and the fact that we now have many dual‑income families instead of just men working and supporting families and all of these sort of social changes that have changed the way we think about work. But how do you and where do you see older workers fitting into the overall economy going ahead?
MR. FURMAN: We just‑‑birth rates have fallen. We have a population that were it not for immigrants, we'd actually have a shrinking workforce, and so older workers are really critical to keeping the economy growing.
And, again, if it was a terrible thing for you, we don't need to make someone work just for the sake of abstract economic growth, but for a lot of people, it keeps them attracted‑‑attached to other people, meaning, purpose, and enables them to have a higher living standard for longer, and all of that is just that much more important when you don't have as many children to support you or as many younger taxpayers to support you as you used to.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Jason, we have a question that's come in from our audience, and I want to read it to you. It comes from Don Mathis, and Don writes‑‑he's in Maryland‑‑what incentives or compelling arguments can be given to employers to hire older people?
MR. FURMAN: You know, Don, that's a great question, and a lot of employers right now are desperate to hire people. There are over 10 million job openings. One of the biggest changes in the labor force since the pandemic has been a lot of older people, especially older men, retired, and they didn't unretire. They didn't come back in.
So you have your Help Wanted sign out there. There's a lot of people out there that have experience that are eager to work, and as they come back into the labor force and want jobs, it's a great pool to consider hiring.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So I have another question that's come in over Twitter. I'm going to read it to you from my cell phone. This comes from‑‑I'm not seeing the person who it comes from. Are there challenges with older people and new skills and receptivity to change? I think this is a huge issue. It's from Peter Carr. Older people work differently, right? We have this enormous change that's come after the pandemic and the way people want to work. How do older people fit into this, this change in the economy?
MR. FURMAN: Yeah. Look, it can be difficult. When there's a big hit to the economy, if you're 30, 35, and lose a job, you have a decent chance of getting another job that paid just as much, continuing on your upward trajectory. If you are 55, 60, and you lose your job or can't continue working in it, you're going to have a hard time finding another job that pays just as much.
Partly, you know, this says try to be flexible and adaptable. Partly, it says maybe find a job that is meaningful to you, and even if you're taking a pay cut, still all in, it's worth it.
And there are some ideas for government policies, something called "wage insurance" that says if you're over 55 and you lose your job, you shouldn't just get unemployment insurance for not working. You should actually get some insurance, a payout if you choose to take a job that doesn't pay as much. Wage insurance is not something we have right now, but it's something I think we should consider because it would help older workers adjust, instead of to leaving the labor force to finding new jobs.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: I just want to clarify that last question came from Peter Carr. So thank you, Peter Carr, for your question.
I want to ask you some broader questions about the economy right now. Two weeks before an election, we're seeing huge inflation, and it's very much on people's minds. When I've been out, I've heard people talking about their gas prices and their groceries. Why has the Obama‑‑I'm sorry‑‑the Biden administration not been successful in slowing this inflation?
MR. FURMAN: Look, I mean, there's two parts to the economy. One is we have an unbelievably low unemployment rate and an incredibly rapid job growth. It continues to be rapid even this far into the recovery, and the flip side is we have a lot of inflation. Inflation is a hard thing to bring down quickly. Most of the job of bringing it down is the Federal Reserve. I think they are doing the right things now, but it's going to take some time to bring that inflation down.
Now, it's good that some of the harm of inflation gets cushioned for some groups. So older Americans on Social Security are getting a large COLA that is compensating them for the inflation and cushioning some of the blow. For some younger workers who aren't seeing their wages keep up, I think it's actually harder than it has been for older people.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Jason, I think you're famously active on Twitter and other places, and I, of course, checked in today to see what you've been tweeting about. And one thing was eliminating the debt limit. Talk to us a little bit about that, what that would mean.
MR. FURMAN: Yeah. The United States is basically the only country in the world that has a rule that says you can't borrow above a certain amount, and the problem with that is Congress can pass whatever laws it wants for spending, whatever laws it wants for taxes, and then it has no choice but to borrow to fulfill what the laws it already passed. If you want a lower deficit or debt, you need to spend less or tax more. Threatening to default is just bad for the economy, bad for the country, and I would love to see Congress get rid of it.
I spent a lot of time negotiating over it in 2011. The economy went to the brink. I would hate to see the Republicans come into power next year and bring the economy back to the brink. I'd love to see the Democrats‑‑or Democrats and Republicans working together just take this self‑destructive policy off the table entirely.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: And what does it take to do that?
MR. FURMAN: As a technical matter, the ideal way would be to do it in a bipartisan fashion. I wrote an op‑ed advocating this with a Republican that I had done a lot of negotiating over the debt limit with.
But the Democrats could do it all by themselves. They set the dollar amount that you can borrow, and they could just raise it so much that no one would ever need to worry about it again, and they could do that in the lame duck with a party‑line vote. It would take a big risk away for the U.S. economy.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: And this is where I think I read this fantasy number, a hundred quintillion dollars. Is that what you were talking about raising it to?
MR. FURMAN: I just picked some number that's so high, you're never going to ever hit it again. So that was‑‑that was mine. But if someone wants to do a hundred quadrillion or a hundred sextillion, wouldn't argue with those.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: [Laughs] So, back to the immediacy of trying to bring down the prices for consumers on their groceries and their gas, what's the most immediate policy you would like to see put through right now?
MR. FURMAN: Look, most of it's on the Fed. They're raising rates. That will cool the economy. It takes time, but I think it will work.
The administration has taken some steps that I think have been good, releasing oil from the strategic petroleum reserve, addressing the situation at our ports and the like. And I think they should just continue to turn over every stone and see if they can figure out ways to increase supply in our economy while the Federal Reserve deals with the demand side of the economy.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So there's a lot of turmoil in the world right now. We have war in Ukraine. We have an election here in two weeks. We have a very polarized country, as many people say. What would‑‑how would you describe the overall health of the U.S. economy right now?
MR. FURMAN: Look, in one‑‑I mean, in one respect, it's extraordinary in terms of where the unemployment rate is. In one respect, it is not where it should be, which is the inflation rate. Compared to other countries, we're in much better shape. I would rather be the United States than just about anywhere else in the world right now. Europe is being decimated by higher energy and electricity prices, much worse than what we're facing here. Emerging markets around the world are coping with all sorts of issues that are difficult for them.
So I think we're a very strong, resilient economy going through a challenge, but it's a challenging world, and I think we're doing an okay job of it.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Just one last very quick question before we finish. You're an academic. Academics often work right into their‑‑I would say till their death beds, but how long do you think you are going to work, Jason?
MR. FURMAN: That's a great question. You know, for me, most of what I do feels like a hobby. I would do it even if you didn't pay me. It's just so much fun. So I expect to continue to do this job or maybe this hobby, you know, possibly until the day I die.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: [Laughs] Well, thank you so much. We are very fortunate to be in jobs that we enjoy and are fulfilling.
Jason Furman, thank you so much for joining Washington Post Live.
MR. FURMAN: Thank you.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: And I'll be back in a few minutes to talk to Laura Carstensen, who is the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Welcome back. I'm Frances Stead Sellers, a senior writer here at The Washington Post.
My next guest is Laura Carstensen. She's the co‑founder of the Stanford Center on Longevity. Laura, a very warm welcome to Washington Post Live.
MS. CARSTENSEN: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: And, again, to our viewers, please do send in your questions to Laura by tweeting them to @PostLive, and we'll monitor for them. That's @PostLive for questions for Laura.
And my first question, Laura, is about the center you founded‑‑co‑founded 15 years ago. What made you realize 15 years ago that we needed to focus and study so much aging and the workforce?
MS. CARSTENSEN: Well, I'm reminded of something that Jason Furman just said, and that is that you can run the numbers pretty easily and make predictions about what the future population is going to look like in terms of age. So we've known for a long time that people are living longer, and our premise and founding the Center on Longevity was that we needed to build a culture that would support very long lives. And what we have tried to do over the years is to apply science and technology, cultural change to the way that we think about and live our lives so that longer lives can be higher quality and satisfying all the way through.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So, 15 years, in one way, it's a short time. Another way, it's a very long time. But perceptions of aging, I think, can change dramatically and maybe particularly aging in women. What's the biggest surprise you've come across in terms of those perceptions about aging in those 15 years?
MS. CARSTENSEN: Whew. I actually think perceptions of aging have improved over the last 15 years, and a lot of that has to do with work. It has to do with engagement. When people are engaged and participating in workplaces, families, communities, the aging stereotypes are less likely to hold. You know, people come to know individuals and think about them as individuals more than as a group that they have particular hard‑and‑fast rules about or views about.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: When I think about the workforce and older people in the workforce, do you see them as a stabilizing influence or one that inhibits innovation? Our work is so much technologically driven these days.
MS. CARSTENSEN: That's true and I think one of the important features of our workforce in the United States that is different from some other countries like Japan is that it's far better characterized by age diversity instead of aging.
So we talk about aging workforces and aging societies. It's true the median modal age is going up. But, in fact, we have reached an astounding, remarkable point in our country's history, and that is that we have comparable numbers of people across the age range. So we have fewer children, we have more adults, and what we're seeing is this kind of evening out, a rectangularization of these age pyramids that used to characterize the population. So now we're seeing age relatively easily‑‑evenly, I should say, distributed in workforces and in the population. I think this is a great thing.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: It's fascinating as well, and I wonder what the most common misperceptions are that continue about people as they age and aging workforces.
MS. CARSTENSEN: Well, in aging workforces, I think one of the big misperceptions is that people think there will be lots of generational conflict, and there's really not a lot of evidence for that. In part, that's because when people work together, they tend to be less likely to hold extreme stereotypes. And when you're part of a work team, we need everybody on that team to come together, and that's the best way, I think, we can bring generations together and other kinds of groups together is to work toward a common goal. We see that a lot in the workforce.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: You have written and talked a lot about the distinction, I think, between happiness and life satisfaction as people age. Can you help me understand that distinction and talk a little about how people feel about themselves and their aging as they get older?
MS. CARSTENSEN: Yeah. Great question. Economists have really been the leaders in research on life satisfaction, and what they find is a kind of a U‑shape curve related to age and satisfaction with life, with younger people and older people being the most satisfied with their lives and people in middle age being the least satisfied.
What we find with emotion and aging is that we see a different pattern, and it's pretty much a linear decline in negative emotion. Positive emotions stay roughly the same. And so, on balance, people get happier, but this is a gradual change that occurs across life, and so we don't see the kind of U‑shape curve with satisfaction. We do see it with emotion.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So there have been various, I think, arguments about why people don't have this sort of angst and anguish that they have when they're younger. Do you have a theory, a dominant theory? Do we just sort of give up and get on and decide to, you know, go with whatever comes our way?
MS. CARSTENSEN: [Laughs] Well, it's a little bit of that.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: [Laughs]
MS. CARSTENSEN: The theory that my group has developed is really grounded in the changing time horizons, future time horizons as we grow older, and motivation is very much influenced by our time horizons. We set our goals in terms of time horizon. You can't really pursue a goal outside of some kind of a temporal context.
And so when people are very young and their time horizons are long and nebulous and uncertain, they tend to pursue goals about the future, about learning, about expanding their horizons, meeting new people, learning all sorts of different things about the world.
And then when time horizons are constrained and they grow gradually more constrained as we grow older, because of mortality, people tend to pursue more short‑term goals, goals about the present, goals that can be realized in their doing. And those goals tend to be goals about emotional satisfaction and emotional meaning.
So our theory is that when you get up in the morning and the default goal that you're pursuing in life is to feel good, is to appreciate what you have and other people and the world around you, you're more likely to feel good than when your default goals are "Wow. There's so much I need to learn and to strive for, and so much can happen in the future." And so, in some ways, aging relieves us of the burden of the future. We don't have to prepare as much for the long term, and so we focus on the present.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So I asked Jason about whether government was‑‑or administration is prepared well enough for this aging workforce. Do you think‑‑and you've got this, you know, 15 years of experience running in the center. Do you think we as individuals are better prepared for aging into a longer working life?
MS. CARSTENSEN: My hunch is that policies are going to change after people change the way they work and live. They'll follow as opposed to lead.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Mm‑hmm.
MS. CARSTENSEN: Federal policies have not been terribly innovative and future thinking where aging is concerned, an aging workforce is concerned. We've been kind of nibbling around the edges. Should we retire at 65 or retire at 67?
What we're beginning to see is that people are working longer, and in part, that's because of financial need.
Another, about 50 percent of that, is because people like to work. They enjoy what they do. They get a sense of purpose from their work, and so we're seeing people working longer now than we have in the past, and it's less related to policy than it is to expectations about their own personal well‑being.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So we've been focusing so much on the working part of people's lives, but retirement, of course, is thought of as a great moment for relaxation. What's the proper balance here, in your view, between work and relaxation as we go through this huge demographic shift?
MS. CARSTENSEN: Yeah. Here's what I think about work. Work is good for people, by and large. People benefit from working in all sorts of different ways.
The way we work is not great at all in this country. So what we do is we work way too hard in the middle of life, and then we work very little toward the end of life.
In some sense, this reflects our response to longer lives in general; that is, we inherited from our ancestors in the 20th century, 30 extra years on average of life expectancy and what we did was to tack all those years onto the end and only retirement, only old age got longer.
Instead, we need to rethink how we live lives that may come close to being a century long and how that's different from those lives we lived when life expectancy was 50, and that was only a century ago. So I think that's one of the problems that we faced is that we've tended to just push all these extra years into the existing social norms and cultural practices.
Instead, we have an opportunity to rethink that. So what I'd like to see us do is to work many more years and fewer days in the week and hours in the day, and I think we‑‑
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So‑‑
MS. CARSTENSEN: ‑‑could improve quality of life.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: I didn't mean to interrupt there, but you've been a proponent of scaling up and scaling down, and we all know the pressures of being there, face time, staying on top of things when you are young and energetic. Is it realistic to really think that people can scale up and scale down and move into high‑powered jobs or jobs of any kind as they get older, or do they miss out? Do you miss out on those stepping stones?
MS. CARSTENSEN: Well, I think that's part of the reason why staying in the workforce is a good idea as opposed to pulling out altogether and then coming back. That's much harder to do. It's harder to be up to date and so on when you do that.
But if what we had instead were models of work where you'd work more hours during certain stages of your life and then fewer during other stages of your life‑‑and those other stages, by the way, might include when you have young children in the home and you're raising them‑‑then you're not getting out of date, out of touch. But you can have a better balance with the personal demands on your time at different stages. One of‑‑
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So you told me about the U‑shape.
MS. CARSTENSEN: Yeah. Can I make one point about the aging workforce today?
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Mm‑hmm.
MS. CARSTENSEN: We have a lot of stereotypes about older people being sort of cognitively impaired, slow, not able to learn new things, and this is largely a stereotype that's rooted in prior generations of older workers who had far less education than their younger counterparts.
Today's older workers have roughly the same levels of education as the younger workers in the workforce, and so we're‑‑they're a very different population than the population of older workers, even 20 years ago.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Thank you. I want to get back into that question of scaling up and scaling down and also fit it with your notion about the U‑shape curve and the linear curve. How do those two things fit together? Do we shape change the shape of those curves and that line if we have people moving in and out of the workforce‑‑or not in and out, I guess, but scaling up and scaling down?
MS. CARSTENSEN: Yeah. You know, I would guess that it would do more to benefit the plummeting of satisfaction in midlife than it would to change emotional experience, which tends to be more age‑related and probably time‑ and goal‑related.
You know, life satisfaction is a cognitive judgment about your life, and that's how it's different than emotion, right? Emotion‑‑I could say to you right now, on a scale of 1 to 10, how angry are you? And you could tell me that, and it's different than saying what's your status in life, you know how satisfied, because then we start to compare ourselves to others. It's a deliberative kind of a process.
In middle age, people are often feeling lots and lots of pressure to take care of other people, both at work and at home, and I think that very likely does contribute to the reduced levels of satisfaction in midlife.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: You mentioned about the stereotypes, the old stereotypes around older workers, but I'd love you to dig a little deeper into what older workers can bring to the workforce or to a particular employment situation. What are the skills that come with aging?
MS. CARSTENSEN: Mm‑hmm. We've been doing some research on age‑diverse workforces and mixed‑age teams, and the finding tends to be from the work that we've been doing and work that other people are doing is that mixed‑age teams are actually more productive than all young teams or all old teams.
And the storyline goes like this. If you've got a group of young people working on something together, they're fast. They're productive. They produce a lot of widgets, whatever that is, and they also make a lot of mistakes. And older teams will work more slowly but basically not make mistakes. So you begin to build teams that have both older and younger workers on them, and what we begin to see is higher quality, few mistakes, and productivity going up. And so I think we've got great, great opportunities in front of us to actually improve work for younger and older people by integrating age.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: So the pandemic, of course, has shifted so many things about how we work. I believe that research shows that older people handed the‑‑handled the emotional turmoil of the pandemic better than younger. Is that‑‑does that come from your research, and what can you tell us about how that informs the importance of older people in the workforce?
MS. CARSTENSEN: Yes. You know, we‑‑I think we were the first to report this finding that older people were actually doing better than younger people during the pandemic, and that's been replicated scores of times now and in different parts of the world as well. I think it probably just reflects this general improvement in emotional balance and emotional regulation that we see with age.
But a lot of people have argued that older people do better emotionally just because they're not stressed so much in life, and I think this has always been questionable. But it's hard to really study that. We're not going to bring people into the laboratory and stress them for prolonged periods of time, but the pandemic provided that. It was a prolonged, inescapable, stressful event, and older people still did better than younger people during that, even though they were at greater risk than younger people, by and large, because of the risk to their own health.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Laura, we have a question that's come in from our viewers. This is from Laura Hetherington in Canada, and Laura asks‑‑and I think she's talking about the trends you're discussing‑‑how do these trends intersect with ageism?
MS. CARSTENSEN: You know, ageism is a major problem, and it's particularly a problem at work. And most older people who are in the workforce say that they have experienced ageism in some ways in the workplace. So we still have ageism as a problem.
I think based on social psychology and what we've learned about all sorts of -isms, the best way to reduce ageism is to have people work together, come together around some common goal or some common effort. When we see that happen, we tend to see ageism subside to some degree.
And so, in some ways, the workforce and working longer may well be a good way, in the end, to address ageism. That's not to say it's not operating today, and I don't mean to be Pollyanna about this. There are a lot of challenges that older people and older workers are facing, but working together is a good solution.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: I'd like to follow up to Laura's question with one last question. That's all we've got time for today, and that is about ageism, particularly in relation to women. Do you see a divide between ageism and the two genders?
MS. CARSTENSEN: Yes. Women face more ageism than men do, and in part, people think that's because women tend to be valued for beauty and as partners and, you know, mothers. And, you know, then we see women who are growing older, and they look different than they used to, and they're judged for that. Whereas for men, they tend not to be as judged based on physical appearance or attractiveness, and so we do see differences in how women are treated and men are treated as they grow older.
And, you know, again, this is something that it's going to take a long time within our culture, I think, to really see that be reduced. I think it will be. I think it is already happening, but it takes time.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: Laura Carstensen, those are fascinating words to conclude with. Thank you so much for joining me today.
MS. CARSTENSEN: Thank you. Good to be with you.
MS. STEAD SELLERS: That was a great conversation. Thank you, Laura, and thank you, Jason, earlier on.
To our viewers, you can find more conversations coming up at WashingtonPostLive.com. Please check them out, and we’ll see you another time.
I'm Frances Stead Sellers.
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