Will the boomers reinvent aging?
The answer is "no" to this much bandied question, according to a new British study.
Chris Phillipson led a team of researchers from Keele University and King’s College, London, in the study of "leading edge boomers" and aging. The team based their results on:
interviews with 150 people born between 1945 and 1954
analysis of data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing
multiple other sources, including newspapers from the U.K., U.S.A, Australia, Canada and France.
The findings appeared in Sociological Research Online (Vol.13, Issue 3).
Here’s what the study reveals:
Attitudes towards aging:
Most boomers – 70 per cent – regard age as unimportant. They see "aging as something that needs managing but is not overly problematic."
Almost without exception, boomers feel younger than their actual age. Moreover, they regard themselves as being more like their children and younger people than like their parents or older generations. Only a minority, 41 per cent of those interviewed, identified with the term boomer.
Early indications suggest boomers may be less willing than their parents and grandparents to accept functional decline as a natural part of the aging process, and more assertive in seeking technological fixes to their problems.
Ideas for retirement include watching television and movies, playing records or going for long walks. Some plan to travel or spend more time at second homes.
At best, they hope to maintain their current lifestyles and activities provided their health and money holds out.
About 69 per cent of participants agreed it was possible to plan for retirement. Yet 71 per cent of those interviewed were making either no retirement plans or only limited ones.
Although considered more individualistic than previous generations, family responsibilities have actually increased rather than decreased for boomers.
Forty-three per cent of those born between 1945 and 1952 have at least one child living at home. And 37 per cent have financial responsibility for other family members, usually children.
They have also taken on grand-parenting roles and the care of older parents, where resources and other responsibilities allowed.
Boomer women appear to be significantly more depressed and to have lower self-esteem in comparison with other cohorts, despite social and economic advantages. The research team suggests this may be because women of previous generations did not have to juggle work and family responsibilities in the same way.
The first wave of boomers have higher levels of wealth and lower levels of debt than those born after 1955, according to researchers. Those who never married, divorced men, high school dropouts and minorities are also likely to have fewer resources.
The proportion of those owning their own homes rose from around one in four in 1950 to two-thirds by the mid-1980s. Today, 33 per cent of boomers own their own homes outright, 52 per cent have mortgages and 15 per cent have second homes.
Home improvement projects continue to be a source of esteem and self worth in retirement.
Boomers enjoy cosmopolitan cuisine and global travel. Co-author Rebecca Leach reports 81 per cent of participants take a holiday abroad at least every two years.
They are also more interested in using their money to enjoy life than worrying about leaving a bequest.
Reinventing aging: hope or hype?
"Some groups of boomers may well reshape growing old in distinctive ways," the authors conclude. But more interesting, may be what they convey about the new inequalities likely to surface in retirement and late middle age.