by Mary Harrington
Wednesday, 8
January 2020
Idea
11:26

Can churches solve Britain’s age segregation problem?

Back in 2014 the Social Integration Foundation showed via analysis of the friendship networks of thousands of churchgoers that their communities were more integrated across ethnicity, class and generation than non-churchgoers.

Anti-ageism think tank United for all Ages has launched its report on ending age segregation in the UK, which, as The Guardian reports, is one of the most age-segregated countries in the world. (Aided, no doubt, by Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee fantasising about the ageing and death of Brexit voters, but never mind that.)

The report contains 20 proposals for ending ‘age segregation’ in order to tackle issues such as loneliness, wealth inequality, ageism and geographic clustering by age. It includes some intriguing ideas such as transforming care homes into community hubs, an idea that has already seen nurseries open inside care homes to great mutual benefit, as movingly captured in Channel 4’s documentary Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds.

It is striking, then, that the 20 proposals contain no mention of one extremely effective intergenerational melting-pot, with long-established cultural and social structures and its own buildings, traditions, aims and social purpose. I am, of course, referring to churches. Back in 2014 the Social Integration Foundation showed via analysis of the friendship networks of thousands of churchgoers that their communities were more integrated across ethnicity, class and generation than non-churchgoers.

This reflects, perhaps, the current impoverished position that shared meaning holds in our culture. Segregation of communities by age reflects the fact that, at the simple level of activity there is no obvious reason for the generations to mix: children, adults and the elderly do quite different things on a daily basis in the modern world. It is only when common structures of meaning or purpose exist across generations that such activities can be coordinated to shared purposes and the creation of more meaningful social lives, as this thoughtful Church Times piece on intergenerational worship suggests.

Perhaps those shared structures of meaning need not be religious. But they need to exist. While we continue to pretend as a society that the creation of meaning is an individual task, not a communitarian one, we may find that groups such as United for all Ages remain marginal, mere voices crying in the wilderness.

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