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Adjusting Our Lives

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(Articles by Dr. Frank appear every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.)

As a result of the lower birth rate and curtailed immigration the aging of the American population has gone forward with great speed in the past fifteen years. For the first time in our history, in the years from 1929 to 1930, the white population under five years of age decreased and the number of children in the group below that age was less than those between six and ten, while at the same time the increase in the number of elders was larger than ever before.

The last decennial census (1930) shows that the number of persons from forty-five to sixty-four years old has increased by one-fourth since 1920 and the number of those from sixty-five to seventy-four years old by over one-third. It might almost be said that the older the group, the more rapid its gain in numbers. Still greater are the changes in the foreign-born group, among whom the Jews form not less than ten per cent.


The total number of foreign-born Jews was assumedly unchanged from 1920 to 1930. Taking in account, however, the age distribution, we find that in each age period up to and including thirty-five to thirty-nine years old, the number of foreign-born has decreased since 1920. This decrease of persons under the age of forty resulted in a much greater concentration in older age periods within the foreign-born Jewish community (the bulk of which consists of men and women over forty) than occurred either among the Jewish community in America as a whole or the native white population at large.

The foreign-born group, which now forms one-tenth of the nation, is maintained by immigration. At present, however, the immigration policy and economic conditions together are holding the number of immigrants at a very low level. In the pre-war period, on the other hand, the influx of newcomers was constant and heavy, and about two-thirds of them were under thirty years, while only ten per cent of the immigrants were older than forty-five years.


The population in the older groups of the foreign-born Jews can now continue to show great gains in numbers for several years. This results from the large immigration that took place in the ten years before the World War, when the great majority of the Jewish newcomers were men and women between twenty and thirty years of age.

The numerical changes in the foreign-born age groups, namely, the continuous decline of the number of immigrant Jews under forty and the steady growth in numbers of the middle-aged, will be a bold feature in the make-up of the American-Jewish community. Still greater will be the change reflected in the increasingly enhanced ration of the older groups in relation to the number of the foreign born Jews as a whole. Here is an example.

Population trends, analyzed and measured, disclose the age composition of the foreign-born whites as a whole in 1950. Fifteen years hence, it has thus been estimated, about twenty-six per cent of all the foreign-born whites will be found in the group of sixty-five years and over, whereas in 1930 their proportion was only twelve per cent and in 1910 not more than nine per cent.

It follows that in 1950 one out of every four foreign-born Jews will be sixty-five years or over, while only twenty-five per cent of them will be from twenty to forty-four, and the majority of the remaining fifty per cent will be middle-aged persons (forty-five to sixty-six).

Among the 80,000 Jewish immigrants in the years since July 1, 1924, a great many were elderly persons—parents coming to join their children in America. This is an additional factor in the rapid increase of elders among foreign-born Jews, who form about forty per cent of the entire American Jewish community.

The social and economic significance of the increase of elders among American Jews arouses many points of interest, as follows.

The rapid increase of the aged, particularly among the foreign-born and poor Jews, will result in an increase of the dependent aged, unless accumulations during the working period greatly increase.

Again, the care for the aged and chronically ill, in accordance with modern standards for Homes of the Aged, clinics for incurables, etc., will command increasingly greater attention when plans for Jewish welfare work are laid down.

As to the Jewish community at large, where native American Jews are predominant, still other points of timely interest emerge. Employment policies, the deplorable discrimination in many industries against men over forty or forty-five years, may work little hardship when only twenty-two per cent of the population is over forty-five. It may, however, be ##ore disquieting when nearly thirty per cent is over forty-five, as the case will be in 1950.

To take another illustration, the problem of old age pensions was one thing in 1930 with 5.4 per cent of the population sixty-five or over, but may be a different thing in 1950, when the proportion of people over sixty-five will be about nine per cent of the American nation.

In conclusion, the rising proportion of people over forty-five may demand considerable growth in some types of adult education which would re-train middle-aged people to work efficiently under the new conditions. This, incidentally, would make up for the decreasing number of young persons entering the working period of life, as a result of the declining number of children.

(Articles by Dr. Frank appear every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.)

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