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Midlife crisis finds new cycle among seniors

Eileen Daspin The Wall Street Journal

The past year and a half of Vicki Ianucelli’s life bears many of the earmarks of a midlife crisis. She bought a condo on the beach in Mexico and jetted off to Paris to celebrate a big birthday. She treated herself to a 9.5-karat emerald ring and got breast implants to boost her self-esteem.

But the New York psychologist isn’t a floundering fortysomething or even a newly minted empty-nester. She’s a 60-plus grandmother of two who logged her first midlife crisis more than a decade ago when she got a facelift to get over “looking like Keith Richards.” This time around, Ianucelli says dealing with age-inspired turmoil is harder, especially since she expected to be settled by now. “I didn’t anticipate I’d be so aware of getting older,” says Ianucelli. “I don’t want to feel I’m out of the running because I’m 61.”

The fact that people are living and staying active longer isn’t just a challenge for the Social Security Administration and movie theaters that offer senior-citizen discounts. It’s creating a whole new opportunity for age denial — with grandmas and grandpas bumming around Europe on rail passes, dumping their spouse (or second spouse) and generally alerting their family and friends to sudden life-changing ambitions. In short, many people in their 60s and 70s are experiencing a good, old-fashioned midlife crisis — the second time around.

The evidence is everywhere: There are more 60- and 70-year-olds today running marathons, buying Harleys, dating online and going to rock concerts. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, procedures on folks 65 and older have tripled in the past five years. (That group now accounts for one in seven facelifts.)

One reason is that these people have more money to tempt them into indulging their youthful fantasies all over again. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of households headed by people age 60 and up with an income of at least $100,000 jumped 27 percent, to two million, between 1998 and 2002, the most-recent year for which data are available. Also, Americans are living longer. In 2002, life expectancy hit an all-time high of 77.2, up from 75.4 in 2000.

There are lots of other social forces at play, too, from a growing number of divorced seniors to more couples marrying and having children later. Increased pressure is coming from the other end too, as kids grow up at Britney Spears speed. According to a recent survey by market researchers NOPWorld, the classic midlife crisis now hits at 45, down from 49 in 2000, while pop-culture authors have also written about the “quarterlife crisis,” a period when twentysomethings struggle with maturity issues.

“There are more crisis points than ever before,” says Pamela McLean, CEO of the Hudson Institute, an education group in Santa Barbara, Calif., that focuses on middle age. “People in their sixties are no longer passively buying motor homes, but saying ‘I want to be fulfilled.’ ”

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