Jared Diamond: Elderly Have “Low Status”

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Celebrated scholar Jared Diamond doesn’t mince words in exploring “the low status of the elderly in the United States” in the above Ted video.

An obvious example is beer, which older people are known to buy and consume. Yet, Diamond asks, “When’s the last time you saw a beer ad that depicts smiling people 85 years old? Never.”

Diamond, who is himself closing in on 80, has developed many specialties – traditional societies, geography, evolutionary biology, and physiology (to name a few) – which give him license to paint with a broad brush, as he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning, “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.”

His sobering lecture on the elderly ends on a positive note as he describes their gifts – wisdom, knowledge of history, and skills refined over decades – and how society might better use them.

But the neglect, isolation, and abandonment of the elderly, or worse, he explains, are not new. They were present in some early traditional societies that could not care for them or would not spare the resources to do so. The isolation of older Americans today, Diamond believes, is a direct consequence of the changes that have come to define modern societies: the elderly’s complete separation from the labor force in retirement, the geographic dispersion of families and friends, and technology.

Even Diamond admits to feelings of uselessness. He’s a whiz on the slide rule, the precursor to a calculator, but sometimes calls his son for assistance using his 41-button television remote.

The television gadget, he said, “utterly defeats me.”

This Ted video was produced in 2013 but Diamond’s lessons are more relevant today.


While I don’t disagree with Mr. Diamond, the reason you don’t see 85 year olds in beer ads is because 85 year olds know what kind of beer they like and aren’t going to switch beer brands anyway. The beer companies get a lot more new sales from young people than old people. It’s math, not a conspiracy against old people.

Jack Darnel

I once saw Mr. Diamond live and I highly recommended watching his TED talk.


Older people can become isolated and lacking meaningful work. In this intriguing talk, Jared Diamond looks at how many different societies treat their elders — some better, some worse.

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