"The boomers have been a transformative generation since they began, just by their sheer numbers," commented demographer Leobardo Estrada, "Society has had to respond to them. And as they move into older-adult ages, I think we're going to see them transform the culture of aging."
Estrada, an associate professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, spoke during a wideranging general session at the 2004 Joint Conference of the American Society on Aging and the National Council on the Aging in San Francisco in April. The plenary panel-which also included Anita Hill of Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass.; Phil Bronstein, executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle; and Mona Lisa Yuchengco, founder and publisher of Filipinos Magazine-was titled "Redefining the Landscape of Aging." All of the panelists are members of AARP's 2011 Council, a group of prominent thinkers, writers and activists whom the association brought together to consider the aging of the boomer generation as it approaches 2011, the year when the first boomers turn 65.
Estrada, who has been an adviser on ethnic and racial groups for the U.S. Bureau of the Census, noted three transforming factors he believes the boomers will bring to bear on how American society deals with issues in aging. "Because they were involved in movements-this is the generation that questioned, that challenged-I expect that they are going to be more politically diverse than past generations." Hc predicted that elder boomers would break the mold of previous older cohorts by not becoming more conservative in their later years.
Furthermore, Estrada said, because so many boomers in the United States are people of color, "who will not have the advantages of the assets necessary to maintain retirement, I think they're going to teach us about collective solutions. They're going to teach us about how you can come together to survive in our older age."
In addition, he said, "I think that we'll see changes in the way we approach expectations of aging." Rather than continue to deny and avoid aging-epitomized by the industry developed around delaying aging-superannuated boomers will foster greater "acceptance of aging as a natural part of the cycle, which comes so naturally to people who are from other countries." For instance, he pointed to the respect for elders permeating Asian cultures and the way in which Latinos celebrate Dia de los Muertos each autumn to honor those who have come before them.
The panelists explored how these and related factors will play out in such key areas as social policy, retirement, the representation of older people in the media, housing and health.
GENERATION OF MOVEMENTS
"I've spent a lot of time thinking about how this generation will be defined," said Hill, the author of Speaking Truth to Power (New York City: Bantam-Doubleday, 1997). "What are not only the defining moments of the past but, as we proceed through life, how are we going to define ourselves and what will be the memory of this generation, what will be our legacy," she asked. One defining characteristic of the boomers is that "it was a generation of movements, she said, "not that everybody was involved in a movement, but it was clearly a generation that was very active, very much involved, whether it was the women's movement, the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement."
Since they were teenagers, Hill said, groups of boomers have worked for social change through the courts and civil protest, she said, but also they have worked "to raise the level of visibility for individuals who have been invisible before, and I think that's in large part what the movements have been about." Boomer movements have especially heightened the visibility of people of color, the interests of women and the tragedy of war. She anticipates that boomers like her will take on "a different kind of movement as we get older and raise the issues of age and age awareness. …