Boomers, at a median age of 55 this year, are in the position to enjoy this burst in longevity. Some will live long enough to enjoy 40 more trips around the sun. The question for Boomers is, what will they do with those years? The question for society is, how will we respond to the extraordinary challenges that accompany this new longevity?
These questions and more are answered by longevity experts in the new book Longevity Rules: How to Age Well Into the Future. Eskaton, a non-profit aging services provider, convened 34 experts, including medical doctors, scientists, economists, engineers, demographers, philosophers and marketers, who provide diverse and often controversial perspectives on how to ensure that the extension of our life expectancy becomes more rewarding than burdensome for individuals and society. And, yes, we contributed -- to both the introductory section and an essay.
While the book points out the problems of aging, it focuses more on the promise of aging. (Quick aside: "aging" seems like an odd word to use to talk about older people. Show me someone at any age who isn't "aging" and I'll guarantee you they are dead.)
What we're talking about here isn't a trend, it is a demographic fact.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects with considerable confidence that the number of Americans over the age of 65 will increase over the next 20 years from 40 million in 2010 to more than 70 million in 2020. We have had older people before, but we have never had this many older people, ever, in the history of mankind.
What do we know today about those future older people? They are Boomers, for one. And given that, we can safely say, based on consistent and overwhelming responses to consumer surveys, that Boomers would rather age in place, at home, than in an institutional setting.
We also can safely say, based on hard economic numbers, that most Boomers have not saved enough to finance a secure and comfortable retirement. The Center for Retirement Planning at Boston College says that more than half of all Boomers are at risk of failing to replace their pre-retirement income. Include the risk of needing long-term care, and the number is three out of five.
Logic tells us that there is a considerable gap between Boomer aspirations for the third and fourth quarters of their lives and what they as individuals, supplemented by the federally financed social safety net, can afford. The numbers point to a future of lessened material expectations for Boomers.
Our analyses of monthly consumer surveys by BIGresearch suggest that Boomers are turning their backs on consumerism. They are rediscovering the traditional values of thrift and frugality, which they see as consistent with emerging "green" values of conservation and recycling.
We see two options ahead for Boomers. One is for Boomers to transform everything about aging in our society. The other is to transform themselves and their own expectations about growing older. The first is externally focused and the second is internal.
As to which option Boomers will choose, well, the numbers don't exist. In fact, even if we polled all 76 million Boomers, we would likely get 76 million different responses. In the end, we will have to wait to find out.
Meanwhile, we can gain some educated insights from the contributors to this book. Think of this as a starting point for the "new rules" for growing old.