Recreating Retirement: How Will Baby Boomers Reshape Leisure in Their 60s?

By Ziegler, Jeffrey | Parks & Recreation, October 2002 | Go to article overview

Recreating Retirement: How Will Baby Boomers Reshape Leisure in Their 60s?


Ziegler, Jeffrey, Parks & Recreation


When Dylan Thomas advised in 1951, "Do not go gentle into that good night," he was writing to his Welsh father, but the words seem to have been taken to heart by American baby boomers. Some social scientists and leisure professionals say that the 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 will be more appropriately known not as boomers, but "zoomers" as they pass 60 years of age and alter society's concept of retirement. For many years, noted social scientist Ken Dyckwald has likened baby boomers to a "pig through the python" as they travel through our society. Boomers have redefined notions of youth, early adulthood and middle age, so it's safe to say they'll recast retirement?

In the leisure profession, the boomers' devotion to exercise and fitness is a prime example of their influence on society. When boomers entered elementary school, President John Kennedy initiated the President's Council on Physical Fitness, and physical education and recreation became a key component of public education. As boomers matured and moved into the workplace, they took their desire for exercise and fitness with them. Here we saw corporate fitness centers and private health clubs sprout up across the country. Now that the oldest boomers' are nearing 60, what approach to exercise and fitness will they take into' retirement?

Boomer Basics

What must leisure professionals remember about the lifestyles and attitudes of baby boomers, who some say have been the most coddled generation in American history?

* Boomers are known to work hard, play hard and spend hard.

* They have always been fixated with all things youthful. Boomers typically respond that they feel 10 years younger than their chronological age.

* Their nostalgic mindset keeps boomers returning to the sites and sounds of their 1960s youth culture. As long as the likes of Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney can crawl onto the stage, there will be boomers to fill the arena seats. Nancy Brattain Rogers, Ph.D., associate professor at Indiana State University, has quipped that boomers' movement into retirement can be considered "The Golden Age of Aquarius."

* Boomers view retirement as only a "mid-life" event. A survey conducted last year by Del Webb Communities and the Morrison Institute of Public Policy at Arizona State University found that boomers moving into planned retirement communities intend to either work part-time, change careers or start new business opportunities. Therefore, they may be more logically ready to recreate rather than retire.

* Time has always been a precious commodity to boomers. Planners that manage appointments from sunrise to late in the evening rule their lives. They have consistently over-programmed their days by attempting to pack every hour of the day with very little down time.

* Boomers are known to purchase more upscale goods and services than other age groups. They are attracted to facilities that emulate the Club Med or country club philosophy.

* According to Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, boomers are less disposed to civic engagements than previous generations. Putman's research casts concern on how, and to what extent, the boomer generation will volunteer as they age. The suggestion of decreased volunteerism by boomers to the parks and recreation agencies forewarns a drastic financial impact.

* Boomers will attempt to separate themselves from any signs or symbols that will connect them to being old. Putnam gives the example that, to boomers, the card game bridge will have the same antique sound as their grandparents' favorite card game, whist, had to their parents' ears.

* This age group tends to enjoy more individualized activities rather than group events. This supports the social theory that Americans are moving toward a culture of social isolationism. Boomers prefer to socialize in smaller groups and typically stay within extended family circles. …

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