Boomers Walk Parents' Path to Retirement Baby Boomers, While Looking at Life Differently, Are Expected to Use

By Todd Wilkinson, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Boomers Walk Parents' Path to Retirement Baby Boomers, While Looking at Life Differently, Are Expected to Use


Todd Wilkinson, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Melva Boettner and Nancy Grout share more in common than a zest for adventure and a branch on the family tree. The mother and daughter also share the same Arizona retirement community.

And why not? They say the gated neighborhood gives them a sense of security, the swimming pools and tennis courts keep them active, and nurses are on-call 24 hours a day. "Everything we need, we have," Mrs. Grout says of Leisure World.

It's a situation that may become increasingly familiar to Americans during the coming decade. While most baby boomers have led radically different lives from their parents, some social scientists say they're likely to follow their parents' footsteps when they reach retirement age. The question of where the baby-boom generation will retire has enormous implications for the nation's Sun Belt. States from Arizona to Florida rely on a steady influx of retirees fleeing cold climates as an essential component of their expanding economies. To them, baby boomers - those tens of millions of Americans born between World War II and 1964 - are a potential jackpot. In the meantime, demographers and gerontologists will be watching Grout and other new retirees for indications of what the future of retirement might look like. "I see no evidence indicating that baby boomers will approach retirement any differently than their predecessors," says David Taylor, a planner in Tucson, which is one of the Arizona cities experiencing a flood of seasonal retirees, known as snowbirds, and permanent elderly migrants from northern states. But he adds: "The baby boomers very clearly have approached life differently than those who have entered retirement the last few decades - people who grew up during the Great Depression." RETIREES represent 15.5 percent of Arizona's overall population, which is the fastest growing in the US. The state's median age is 35.5 and going up, but Mr. Taylor attributes it more to the aging of boomers than a surge of retirees. Demographic studies show that Arizona captures 80 percent of retirees from the Midwestern and Plains states, while Florida claims the lion's share of retirees living east of the Mississippi River and from the populous Northeast, notes Tim Hogan, director of the Siebman Institute at Arizona State University in Tempe. The inflow of retirees follows a predictable pattern: Many flock to the Sun Belt seasonally during the winter and then, after a few years, move south permanently. Obviously, there are fundamental differences between each generation's approaches to its golden years. Attitudes of current retirees were shaped by the Depression and they tend to carry an ever-present concern about their financial standing. As a hedge, these seniors are thrifty, feel uncomfortable accruing huge debt with credit cards, are largely single wage-earner families, see themselves as "joiners" in community activities like the Lions' Club or Elks' Lodge, choose neighborhoods for their social value rather than exclusivity, and worked for only a couple of employers their entire career.

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