Following WWII, the U.S. experienced a dramatic rise in population growth. Beginning in 1946, more babies were born each year than in the prior year. This birth rate boom lasted for almost two decades before tapering off. By 1964, 76.4 million baby boomers had been born, encompassing nearly 40% of the American population. As the baby boom generation reached adulthood, they helped bring lasting change in social and cultural values, and brought us Woodstock, ended a war, and ushered in an era of civil rights, consumerism, political activism, women’s liberation and sexual freedom.
Today, the oldest of the boomers have reached or are approaching their seventies. As this generation draws closer to the typical retirement age, the nation’s median age continues to rise. Demographics show that about 10,000 people turn 65 every day. This trend will continue until the year 2030, when all remaining members of the baby boom generation will have turned 65 years of age, representing about 20 percent of the U.S. population. In the past century, Americans have enjoyed an overall gain of 25 years of life expectancy at birth.
At the turn of the century, life expectancy at birth for males was only 46 years and for females 48 years. Today, that life expectancy has increased to 79 years for men and 85 for women. Gains in life expectancy will continue to grow along with advancing medical innovations, better nutrition and increased wellbeing, as younger generations age in healthier ways than their parents and grandparents. Today’s youth might do well to rethink “old age,” as the future of old age is the future for everyone.
While the legacy of boomers will continue to be debated for years to come, studies show that boomers are not just fading away into retirement in the traditional sense. Boomers are not exactly sitting on the front porch rocking chairs watching the world go by. Instead, they are setting another trend we might term active healthy successful aging. Many are opting not to retire at all or are working long past the official retirement age. Entrepreneurship is strong among boomers when compared to other age groups. Statistics show recent retirees are twice as likely to start a new business as the millennial generation. Many are finding success by following their passions, using the skills acquired through a lifetime of employment, and turning doing what they love into opportunity for themselves and others.
It appears that the baby boomer generation is changing societal views on growing older. People are not only interested in longevity but want to reach and enjoy their mature years in the best possible health. Aging well is broadly defined as physical, mental and social wellbeing during the senior years. Research acknowledges that a growing number of older adults have good health with low risk of disease and disability, high mental and physical functioning, and an actively engaged lifestyle. This, of course, doesn’t happen on its own, as it takes resilience, motivation, and acceptance to optimize one’s health and lifestyle. Boomers are more apt to push the limits of physical and mental functioning in order to reach an advanced age free of age-associated disease and significant physiological deterioration.
It appears that a more comprehensive definition of successful aging would include these three elements: longevity, health, and happiness. Perhaps aging well has something to do with attitude, and making the best of what you’ve got no matter what stage of life you’re in. In a self-rated study, even those with chronic conditions felt they were aging successfully, believing they had quality and well as quantity of life. Boomers appear to be taking a holistic view of what contributes to aging successfully. Those with high levels of resilience, low rates of depression, few years of substance abuse, and a good social network are most likely to report high levels of life satisfaction well into their golden years.
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Baby Boomers. https://www.history.com/topics/baby-boomers
The Nation’s Older Population is Still Growing, Census Bureau Reports. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2017/cb17-100.html
Old Age is a Myth We Need to End as Baby Boomers Retire. https://www.google.com/search?q=does+someone+turn+65+every+8+seconds&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1
The Changing Landscape of American Life Expectancy. http://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/changing_landscape_american_life_expectancy.pdf
Millennials Can’t Keep up With Boomer Entrepreneurs. https://www.kauffman.org/blogs/currents/2016/07/age-and-entrepreneurship
Successful Aging and Well-Being: Self-Rated Compared With Rowe and Kahn. https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/42/6/727/671748
Successful Aging: Physical, Psychological, and Social Factors that Contribute to Aging Well. http://health.umt.edu/mtgec/documents/Successful%20Aging.pdf