Retirement, Baby Boomer Style

By Fry, Patricia | The World and I, June 2003 | Go to article overview
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Retirement, Baby Boomer Style


Fry, Patricia, The World and I


Patricia Fry is a freelance writer and publisher from Ojai, California. She is the author of Fatherhood and Fathering: the Ultimate Guide to Today's Dad.

There's been a lot of hype about the baby boom generation--born between 1946 and 1964. And why not? For over fifty years, this generation, at 76 million strong, has created and reshaped trends in everything from the economy to fashion. Now they're about to change what it means to retire.

How will senior citizens be defined in coming decades? What will retirement look like? How will the aging of the boomers impact society? These questions are being contemplated by many, including the baby boomers themselves.

Numerous surveys show that boomers are not carbon copies of their parents when it comes to retirement planning. According to John Rother, director of policy and strategy at AARP, "What we do not find in our surveys is the image of 'I'm going to move to Florida and play golf all day.' "

Some experts look at the boomers as rather spoiled and self-indulgent. Helen Dennis, a specialist in aging at the Andrus Gerontology Center of the University of Southern California, says, "Boomers, because of their sheer number, have had things on their terms. They're going to want retirement on their terms rather than fitting into a system that doesn't make sense to them."

Paul Yakoboski, director of research for the American Council of Life Insurers, agrees that this generation will not retire in the traditional way. He says, "There's an evolving definition of what it is to be retired. For example, my dad hit 62, and he was done. He walked out of the office and didn't go back. He puttered in his garden, hung out at the donut shop, and didn't work anymore. This is a stereotypical retirement, which isn't what many current or future retirees have in mind. They have in mind retiring from a career job and then doing something else--setting up their own business or going to work for someone else--but doing it more on their terms."

Boomers don't even accept current terminology related to retirement, says Dennis. "Boomers say they're never going to age, and retiree is not a word they relate to. Boomers are going to generate a whole new vocabulary. It's going to be cool to be retired, they're going to make it cool."

While no one knows what new words the baby boomers will coin, Rother agrees that they do know which ones they'll discard. "There are certain words that are not favored: the word elderly, for example, and old. Even senior citizen is disappearing."

However, boomers, like everyone else, will age, and most will eventually retire. Greeting them, says Rother, are countless choices. "There will be more options for this generation, including the option to continue working."

AN AGING WORKFORCE

In fact, the face of the workplace is starting to reflect the influence of the baby boom generation. Overall, America's workers are older. In 1980, 16.9 million men and women between the ages of 45 and 54 were in the workforce. That number increased to 26.4 million in 1996. Statisticians predict that it will reach 34.9 million by the year 2005. Workers 55 and older numbered 16 million in 1996 and are expected to reach 22.2 million in 2005.

What are the baby boomers like, anyway? Rother reports on recent survey findings. "Boomers, as a group, are more highly educated and, compared to their parents' generation, much better off financially. But they're more diverse than any other generation that has come before. That makes it hard to generalize." According to Rother, a majority of boomers see a continued role for work in retirement. Studies show that most of them plan to go back to work from desire, not need.

Says Rother, "About half of that generation sees work [in retirement] as fulfillment, and a quarter see it as a necessity. We estimate that about a quarter of the current boomer generation is completely unprepared for retirement.

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