December 26, 2010 in Features

First baby boomers set to turn 65 in January

Local experts weigh in on what this might mean for our culture’s view of aging
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Christopher Anderson photo

The first baby boomers are turning 65 in 2011 and they may just change the world for older citizens. Front to back are Martha Chadwick, Dick Warwick, Loni Daly and Ed Clark.
(Full-size photo)

The first baby boomers will turn 65 on Saturday.

Every day, for the next 19 years, about 10,000 boomers “will cross that threshold,” as the Pew Research Center puts it.

On Jan. 1, 1959, these same first boomers turned 13. No one back then predicted the myriad ways they would revolutionize youth culture.

These boomer teens eventually redefined style, trading crew cuts and skirts for long hair and bellbottoms. Rock ’n’ roll became their anthem. Drugs, their escape.

And free love? Groovy, man.

They took to the streets in their later teens, protesting the Vietnam War and other causes that limited their freedoms, such as curfews in college dorms.

Will these first among the 79 million boomer senior citizens begin an older age revolution?

Likely, the experts say.

But first, they’ll need to get out of their funk.

A Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends study, released Monday, shows that boomers are feeling downbeat. For instance, 80 percent of them are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States.

Almost a quarter say their standard of living is lower than what their parents experienced. And boomers worry their children’s standards will sink even lower.

But some optimism surfaced, too.

Boomers don’t believe old age starts at 65.They chose 72 as the demarcation, according to Pew research.

They also said they feel nine years younger than their chronological ages. So 65 could turn into the new 56.

Other surprises likely await boomers and the culture they’ll change as they grow older in it.

Three socioeconomic experts, boomers all, recently made some predictions about the coming “gray tsunami.”

Bill Robinson, retired president of Whitworth University, writer, consultant:

• Boomers will ease into their “moderate” years. They will have moved from being tender-hearted idealists who sing about how they want to go to San Francisco with flowers in their hair, to cold-blooded capitalists who want to buy San Francisco, to mellowing tourists who want to see the San Francisco they didn’t really notice while they were busy protesting and purchasing.

• Boomers will enjoy their most meaningful years. At about age 67 they will find themselves in mid-sentence when the vacant look on the trapped victim of their whining awakens them to the life-giving awareness that nobody really cares about their backaches, bunions and bowel movements.

That night they will make a list of people whose lives they can enrich by loving them and supporting them and caring for them and listening to them.  And they will find meaning and joy in being needed.

• Boomers will reprioritize their values. Limited resources and sticky reminders of life’s mortality will thrust them into choices about what really matters.

They will steward their lives. They will think about faith. If they have been blessed with relatives and/or dear friends, choices will curve inexorably toward relationships.

This morning, our 2-year-old grandson scaled the chair in which I raced against a writing deadline.

“Read,” he demanded, tumbling over my right shoulder across my lap, onto my laptop and all over my concentration.

Still in his little hand was the “Frosty the Snowman” Golden Book my parents gave me for Christmas, 1953.

I obeyed the little dictator. I read. And to my children, and to my children’s children, I feel destined to read some version of Frosty for the final third of my life.

Mary Selecky, head of the Washington State Department of Health:

• Boomers will no longer put off what they “were” going to do and do it now, like quit smoking.

• Boomers will give themselves more permission to have fun.

• Boomers will insist on bicycle safe lanes in the city. On two-lane rural roads, they’ll insist on wider shoulders to walk, bicycle and run on. 

• Boomers will ask restaurants, especially the breakfast places, to use smaller plates and serve smaller portions, and they’ll support drive-through organic and healthy fast-food places.

Randy Barcus, economic forecaster, chief economist for Avista:

• Boomers will reconsider living here during the winter. Most will stay but will demand better road and sidewalk ice and snow removal and will be willing to pay more for it.

• Boomers will choose to travel during the wintertime. Yes, to avoid the dog days of winter here, but also to capture the off-season values around the country and the world.

Only a fool would leave during our great summer weather and these are no fools.

• Boomers will be much more active politically, not simply with elections, but attending public hearings, providing well-informed testimony on important community issues with long-term legacy implications.

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