Welcome to Boomer U.
In this new Monday section in The Spokesman- Review, we’ll track the trends that will follow baby boomers into older age. We’ll introduce you to Inland Northwest people living the trends – or chafing against them.
We’ll tackle the deeper stuff facing boomers, as well as subjects superficial and fun.
The name Boomer U – U for university – reflects our goal to provide a learning experience here, but the U is intentionally double in meaning – U/you. Boomers have long been accused of self-absorption, rightly or wrongly.
In 2013, the youngest baby boomers, those born in 1964, will turn 49. The oldest boomers, born in 1946, will turn 67.
Will aging boomers save the world or destroy it?
No one yet knows. In 1959, when boomers first became teens, no one predicted that boomers would change everything from fashion to film to family. The year 2013 in boomer years is like 1959. This revolution has just begun.
As a 57-year-old boomer who is proud of the label, I will write for and edit the section for some of our most loyal Spokesman-Review readers, the Monday crowd, who has stuck with the paper through thick and thin.
Last year, the newspaper sent me to the Age Boom Academy at Columbia University where aging experts discussed how a society jammed with people in their 50s, 60s and 70s will change workplaces, families, communities and society.
Here’s a glance at some of the predicted changes. You’ll read more about these trends – and many others – in upcoming Boomer U sections.
The boomers were never slackers. Their World War II-era parents, steeped in the work ethic, insisted their children follow suit. So experts predict boomers will cling to work in their older years. Many boomers will have two decades of life expectancy after the standard retirement age of 65. Some boomers will remain in their career jobs years past 65. Others will try out encore careers. Still others will choose part-time work, low on prestige but high on socialization.
But watch out if boomers retire on schedule in great numbers, forgo encore careers and eschew part-time jobs. This could compromise the solvency of Social Security.
Housing experts predict those boomers who embraced the suburban/rural giant home trend in the 1970s and ’80s will downsize to condos closer to a city’s downtown. Or live in co-housing arrangements, also near city amenities.
Boomer migration to city living could invigorate downtowns throughout the country, generating revenue to boost public transportation, the arts, retail and restaurants.
Some worries: The McMansions built by boomers won’t find buyers, because families are smaller, and people of house-buying age now are into compact spaces, too. This could potentially strand isolated aging boomers in crumbling homes in disconnected neighborhoods.
Or boomers may discover, after settling into their condos for a spell, that they miss the privacy of single-family home living.
The prediction that boomers will bankrupt Medicare is based on the assumption that boomers will make health care decisions the same way their parents did.
Boomers, however, have embraced preventive care and alternative medicine. Palliative and hospice care – with emphasis on a patient’s physical, mental and spiritual health – can cut health care expenses in the home and in hospitals. Both continue to gain traction.
And boomers might not cling as tightly to life as their parents did or even enjoy the same longevity. Experts predict boomers – who prize youth and vitality – will choose quality of life over quantity, opting against expensive measures to stay alive.
Some expect more states to pass death with dignity laws, the way Washington did in 2008. Also known as assisted suicide laws, they are controversial, but still mentioned as one possible reason boomers won’t drain resources on costly end-of-life care.
The generation gap
The famous mantra “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” reflected the 1960s battles between boomers and their parents.
Now boomers (long past 30) sometimes get locked in battle with parents who are in their 80s and 90s. The parents complain that their grown children treat them like children, dispensing unwanted advice on health care and living arrangements.
Boomers also feel torn between their busy lives, their desire to have some fun as their nests empty, and the increasing needs and demands of their elderly parents. They’ll outsource some of their parents’ care, creating a boon for retirement communities and geriatric care managers.
The fun stuff
Predictions: Boomers will spend money on experiences while shedding their things. They’ll trade adventure travel that requires long plane rides for places they can drive to. Older widows won’t fear living alone; most will really enjoy it. Widowed boomers will reconnect with old boyfriends/old girlfriends on Facebook and at reunions, finding encore partners, same sex and otherwise. Dating sites for people older than 50 are exploding; AARP launched one recently.
Boomers will be the first generation to keep their own teeth (or most of them). Fitness clubs will introduce many more classes with “gentle” in the name. Grandparents will eschew traditional babysitting and instead plan activities that create memories for their grandchildren. Expect to see wine gardens masquerading as “grandparent rest zones” at theme parks.
If you felt some irritation reading the above analysis, great. It was filled with generalizations about boomers who will – in reality– skip, saunter and roll into older age in diverse ways, destroying some things, saving others and doing everything else in between.
Our hope for Boomer U is to get people of all generations talking about the coming revolution. Let the classes begin. Thanks for enrolling.