In his book Popular Culture and High Culture, Herbert Gans makes an interesting point for explaining why adults can be more pessimistic about society than young people: as they age their social influence (especially in popular culture) decreases and they can transform this loss of influence into a theory of general social deterioration since their particular opinions aren’t reflected as much anymore.
I buy it.
After all, young people enjoy an artificially high level of interest from just about everyone, not only advertisers. For ambitious youth this means endless doors are open to you, if you knock.
4 comments on “Why Old People Are More Pessimistic”
I’m not convinced it’s quite that simple. What about the idea that old people have experienced more of the world and have seen how history tends to repeat itself and human nature remains essentially the same?
There’s a saying that if you’re not a liberal (democrat?) when you’re 20 you have no heart, and if you’re not conservative (republican?) when you’re 40, you have no brains. I think this speaks to the notion that as people age they tend to see how the world works, and they become less idealistic and more jaded and self-interested.
If you combine this jaded outlook with the other difficulties of old age (deteriorating health, etc.), it’s not hard to understand why older people might have a more negative outlook.
My experience tells me this is not totally a function of young and old but also a function of taking care of kids and not taking care of kids. Most people I know who have kids, no matter how young, have been humbled by how difficult it is. And most people I know who don’t have kids, even if they’re in their 50s, see the world as their oyster — because if you have only yourself to please you can go in any direction you want.
Actually, the quote was from Winston Churchill, and he stated that “If you’re not a socialist at 20, you have no heart. If you’re not a capitalist by 40, then you have no brians.” That’s a far cry from being just “liberal” or “conservative.” It just means you understand that world is run by money, but all entrepreneurs know this already and do their best to bring value into the world.
The thing is that elder people find it more difficult to shake up their views and change their opinions, because that would be rocking the foundation of their lives. They fear finding out that perhaps they didn’t live the best they could. So they generally become stubborn. Thus, the young inherit the earth, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you keep an open mind. Ben has talked about this topic before, about how adults fear what youth looks forward to.
My two most important mentors are aged 92 and 83. They believe youth can accomplish anything. These gentlement have chidren and grandchildren. I also have mentors in their 40s and 50s who remain single and have no children at all. I would be hardpressed to say that they are happier than the ones who do have children.
Studies have found that a person’s most productive years are between 40 and 60. This takes into account that those are the years when they are raising their children, and their children are maturing.
In reference to the original topic, that adults have a smaller social influence as they grow up, this also depends on which industry.
You know you can never talk in generalities or your are assured of being wrong.
But I actually made a reference in your blog at one other point to Theodore Roosevelt (TR) and his bitterness as he was in the last stages of his life. He was not pessimistic but he was really bitter (although he would have never acknowledged that fact).
I just think that for a VAST MAJORITY (notice not all) of older people life has beaten them up and therefore they take the cynical view of life.
I notice my own views are more cynical, pessimistic, and bitter than they were 15 years ago. I just think it is a natural progression.