Last week the results from the Danish Health Profile 2021 came out, showing that young people are more stressed than ever before. As a society the last thing we need is for young people, who already struggle, to feel forced to succeed early in life. Especially because half of them will be at least 100 years old. Instead, we need examples of new beginnings for 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, and 100-year-olds.
By Emilia van Hauen, cultural sociologist, board member, author, TEDx speaker
“I am often asked if I have any regrets. And my answer to that is: Plenty!”
Fran Lebowitz has just visited Denmark, and I was one among several hundreds who heard her liberating answer on stage in Bremen. Not just because it was honest. But especially because it is unusual in our time to stay true to yourself by actually regretting anything. Yes! you can become wiser and be sorry if you have hurt others, but in our therapy society it has become old-fashioned to having regrets, maybe because it would be understood as if you are doing yourself wrong. And maybe Fran Lebowitz is old-fashioned. But she certainly also has 71 years of coolness which became clear as there were lots of young people asking her for advice on everything regarding life during her talk. This provocative, gifted, piss-off, self-congratulatory, self-deprecating and iconic New Yorker author, who recently achieved world fame through a Netflix documentary made by her good friend Martin Scorcese, has plenty of self-confidence. And her distinguishing feature is that she doesn’t really care what others think of her; a quality that could calm the restlessness of many young hearts in a time when one forms one’s identity under a chronic panopticon condition, which can probably take the pep out of anyone.
Especially when combined with the speed at which we live today.
This Tuesday the deadline for quota 2 applications to the University was up. A note from Denmark’s Evaluation Institute (EVA) from 2021 shows that university students who are admitted via quota 2 have better odds of completing their studies and at the same time are more motivated and more settled when they start. Simultaneously the results from the Danish Health Profile 2021 have just arrived and they show that 31.2 percent of young men between the ages of 16 and 24, and 52.3 percent of young women in the same age group, suffer from high levels of stress (what triggers a long-term sick leave at a workplace). In 2017 the figures for men were 23.4 percent and women 40.5 percent. We have never talked so much about stress and young people’s psychological and mental health and in spite of that nothing has improved. Con the contrary is shows a pure disaster with an increase of over 25% in four years alone!
None the less Danish young people are tried to be rushed through a course of study from elementary school to graduation in the shortest possible time, reinforcing what the sociologist Hartmund Rosa calls the “acceleration society”, which he describes in this way: “You have to run faster and faster just to stay where you are.” It also doesn’t help young people that they are inundated with “Under 40” and “Young Talent” lists that promote young people who have been exceptionally successful early in life.
Fortunately, the young people are starting a youth rebellion, which revolves around the right to express one’s identity, desires and body as they wish, and to have a life with psychological, social, economic, and climatic balance. They insist over and over again that there has to be room for a natural vulnerability that must be taken seriously because that kind of new fragility does not come from themselves, but from the conditions to which they are subject to. The American gymnast Simone Biles became a shining example of this during the Olympics 2020 (which were held in 2021).
And fortunately, the middle-aged and elderly are also starting an age rebellion, because more and more adult og old people are getting more appearance in our society thus helping to push the limits of what you can do when you are 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, and 100 years old. An example are action movies where the average age of the leading roles in the most popular action movies in 2018 was 58; in 1999 it was 36 years. The same trend can be seen in fashion, where, for example, Judy Dench was on the cover of British Vogue at the age of 85, the artist Evelyn Hall was discovered as a model at the age of 64 and the interior designer Iris Apfel at the age of +90 has become one of our greatest style icons of all time. Professionally, there is also a quiet revolution underway with more and more retired people starting their own companies.
Considering that some researchers claim that half of those born after the year 2000 will live to be at least 100 years old, it makes no sense to talk about one education and one career, and not at all in a hurry to peak before turning 40 years old. On the contrary!
That is why we as a society need new lists. Lists that set us free from the tyranny of youth and instead show us how to start a new study at 50, a new career at 60, a new marriage at 70, a strong body at 80, a debut novel at 90, or a new nationality as a 100-year-old. Just as examples.
Published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in March 2022