Conclusion: Processional Knowledge
A lengthy exposition has been required to demonstrate that the historical demography of aging is indeed necessary knowledge from the past. Some of this knowledge has had to be technical, even more of it numerical, not a little of it to consist in invoking visual judgment as to whether one line of a figure does or does not resemble other lines. These are not the usual qualities of historical discourse. And in the end, the knowledge and the inferences expounded turned out not to be from the past alone but from the past and the projected future, with the historically insubstantial present taking up a great deal of space.
For the title of a recent analysis of the grave issues of justice over time, the phrase "processional justice" had to be adopted. It was found, and this will not surprise a demographer, that the realities to be understood escaped the analyst if they were confined to a time point. A cross-sectional view was only useful so far as it could indicate not only what is or was at a point in time but also what had been and would be. There is a similar logic in the use made of projections in the section above. We do not understand our-
selves in time, and this understanding is the peculiar duty of the historical sociologist, unless we see ourselves as placed in a procession. Hence the description of necessary knowledge from the past as processional.
There are two further examples from the historical demography of aging that help us to grasp what we should be after. One was touched on in the discussion of the Third Age Indicator, the 3AI. If at the beginning of your productive life the expectation of ever growing old is so low that the prospect can be sensibly disregarded, then your attitude toward your late and very late life is likely to be quite different from that of a person who can confidently expect to be old. We do not know how far this did and does mark the attitude of people placed on the lower aging plateau. There, as table 1.4 and figure 1.10 show, the value of the 3AI was often below .33 and was likely to have been lower for a fair proportion of those "decreasing the wealth of the kingdom." We do know one relevant thing about their behavior as to age and aging, however. As late as the 1930s in England, working-class people failed to save for late life, but they did save penny by penny for their funerals (Johnson 1985), which could of course come at any age for them as it could for all their predecessors.
On the lower plateau, between 15 and 25 percent of an original male cohort were alive at the age of 70, whereas 65 to 75 percent are alive at that age today. If the proletarians did write off their old age in the Before, they were acting rationally, especially if public money was there to support them in old age as it certainly was in London during the 1930s. But they were behaving as if prompted by processional knowledge, knowledge of a kind that must inform the writing of the history of aging and especially its demography.
Our further example is the same set of circumstances looked at from another point of view. In discussing transfers of resources, social as well as familial, to those in late life in the West, it is properly supposed that the recipients receive these resources as of right, as a part of the normative structure of the society they live in. These rights have been of particular importance in the West because Western rules of household formation could be said to impose hardship on older people, especially widowed and decrepit older people. It does so by removing their children from their families at the marriage of those children, "nuclear family hardship" as it has come to be called. On the lower aging plateau, these rights, although they can be supposed to have attached to every individual, were only ever exercised by very few. This is a point on which the strongest stress has to be placed. The others died too soon. However important their right to support at the end of their lives may have been to them when living, seen processionally, those rights were a nullity.
One way of looking at the much discussed crisis of support for the old in Western countries today is that the secular shift in aging makes it more and more difficult, perhaps in some estimates finally impossible, to sustain the
inherited, perduring Western social structure in this regard. To recognize this possibility is also to practice processional thinking. Such thinking will be even more urgent in developing countries, as we have seen. It should be evident that responding to the acquisition of necessary knowledge from the past about aging, even in the preliminary fashion in which it has been done here, is to widen the intellectual horizon of historians, sociologists, and social scientists at large, as well as to explore a hitherto almost unknown area of the human reality. It does much to consolidate the concept of historical sociology and to demonstrate its overarching importance.