By Willie Johnson | USA
Today, the average lifespan in the United States is 79 years. Fifty years ago, it was 70. One hundred years ago, it wasn’t even 40. These stark differences can be attributed to a variety of factors such as disease, deaths in childbirth, and other dangers that have lessened over time, but the effects of a longer average lifespan go beyond just population numbers; The way society views aging and death has fundamentally changed.
It’s worth noting, however, that these generalizations usually only apply to the western world—particularly the United States. Cultural differences around the world have made views on the subject unique from one country or region to the next, so specifying the ones being discussed is an important part of building an argument and avoiding sloppy writing. Knowing that it’s the modern, innovative components of American society that are responsible for lengthening lifespans helps in understanding the changes that are taking place.
Most people are familiar with the widespread system of senior homes and care facilities that have allowed the elderly to live out the final end of their lives in comfort without being a burden to their families. Although this is a generally positive thing, it has allowed people to view the decay of their loved ones intimately, something that rarely occurred in the days when most died not long past their prime. This has created an increased fear of aging, as we have found ways to extend lifespan without being able to delay the natural breakdown of our bodies. More than ever before, there is an emphasis on cosmetic improvement that ranges from harmless skin cream to dangerous plastic surgery procedures.
Celebrities are at the center of this issue; A half-century ago, for example, the average movie star either stopped making appearances after a certain point or died before old age altogether. They are as revered as much as ever today, but when people see their idols grow old and unattractive as they never did before, they come to hold such change in a negative light. The effects of popular culture on society cannot be overstated, and in this scenario, it has helped to shift associations with old age from wisdom and respect to death and decay.
Advances in medicine and technology, as stated before, have improved health and lengthened lifespan, but they have also bred fear. The more we are able to hold death at bay, the more we fear it. If our incredibly advanced life-saving techniques—the product of thousands of years of innovation—can’t stop a friend or loved one from dying, it’s truly a power to contend with. Death has always been a part of existence, but rather than accepting it, we’ve come to rail against it as a society.
In times when Americans had a more close relationship with death (such as Colonial Times, the Civil War, etc), we accepted it with open arms as a gateway to the afterlife. Less fear and anxiety about death allows one to live a happier life. We’ve become less religious and more cynical, but the nihilistic view of dying that so many have adopted isn’t helping society in the least; If the prospects of aging and death prevents your enjoyment of life, you’re looking at them the wrong way.