60 On Up: The Truth About Aging in America
by Lillian Rubin


Beacon Press, 2007. ISBN 9780807029282.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 12/04/2007

Nonfiction: Elders

Psychologist Lillian B. Rubin is in her early eighties; her husband, over ninety, has early stage dementia. In 60 On Up, Rubin gives us an honest, hard look at the realities—especially the physical difficulties—of being old. She feels that Americans are in denial about the difficulties of aging. She wants to shake her husband when he says,"I'm lucky to be able to do as well as I can." I, on the other hand, would want to hug him and give him credit for his positive attitude. I focus on what we are able to gain as we age if we seek it in spite of the inevitable physical difficulties. I am not eighty, however, and my spouse is not ninety.

That said, 60 on Up is a book worth reading. Rubin focuses on the prevalence of ageism in America... "Until ageism comes under some kind of public scrutiny with a political movement to match, euphemisms like 'senior citizen' will be met with disdain by both the old and the society in which they live." Here is a battle that needs to be fought.

Rubin points out that our new longevity has costs, not only to those of us who are considered old, but to our children and our grandchildren as well. We may have wisdom, but who, she asks, wants to hear it? (Perhaps she has also unconsciously accepted some of the premises of ageism.) She acknowledges that seeking a spiritual life, a transcendent life, is a valid goal; however, she questions whether we, as sum totals of our whole life experience, can easily turn toward an introspective life. (Carl Jung and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in From Age-ing to Sage-ing, say it is imperative.) As we live longer, Rubin says, "We are now in uncharted territory, a stage of life not seen before in human history."

When Rubin writes of friendship, she talks of those who have drifted away, died or grown frail and unable to continue a full social life. "Something happens on the way from there to here," she writes. "Suddenly our lives don't fit together the way they used to." Friendships change with age, she suggests, because we begin to pull back. We become introspective and conscious of the limitations that our future may bring us. While we want to be in the world, we need more solitude than ever and "have withdrawn...some of the energy that was once given over to our friendships." We move to a quieter, contemplative place that is "all too often, lonely."

The title of Chapter Nine is self-explanatory: "Hey folks, you're spending my inheritance." Because we are living longer (healthier or not), we are using our savings on ourselves, not our children. Yet as we realize that our time is finite, we tend to value our children, grow closer to them, and, yes, become more dependent upon them. Paradoxically, we fight for our independence and our right to live alone, to drive and make our own decisions until circumstances require that we relinquish the fight, if only to ease the concerns of our children and grandchildren. But it is hard, and those of us who live long enough will inevitably come to depend upon others.

A skillful writer, Rubin writes of herself and her husband in an honest, sympathetic way, keeping her humanity and a sense of humor but at the same time maintaining her psychological and research-oriented focus. She says,"For old age tiptoes in on silent feet, taking a little here, a little there, none of it big enough to get our full attention, until one day, it's there, and we're left wondering, 'What happened?'" Here is a book with hard questions, even philosophical questions. Eighty in 2007 is very different from eighty in earlier decades, Rubin says. Eighty in 2025 will be a new adventure.


Lillian Rubin, Ph.D. is a sociologist and psychotherapist. The author of twelve books, she lives in San Francisco. At the age of eighty-two, she sold her first painting.

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