In 1946, 3.4 million babies were born in the U.S., a jump of 22% from the previous year. The surge of births continued, year after year, until 1964. By that time 78 million "baby boomers" had joined the population, creating a huge demographic bulge that flourished in America's postwar prosperity. These children acquired more education than any previous generation; many grew up projecting a rebellious, idealistic attitude that promised to reshape society.

Now, with the first of them turning 60, the baby boomers are about to do something utterly conventional and predictable. They're going to start getting old and begin developing health problems. They're also going to retire from the workforce.

In true baby boomer style, however, they will probably do these things in a new way.

Boomers are expected to live longer than any previous generation of Americans. Of the 3.4 million born in 1946 -- including Bill Clinton, George and Laura Bush, Donald Trump, Susan Sarandon, Steven Spielberg, and Sylvester Stallone -- 2.8 million are still alive. The men can expect to live another 22 years, the women another 25.

By 2030, when the first baby boomers reach 84, the number of Americans over 65 will have grown by 75% to 69 million. That means more than 20% of the population will be over 65, compared with only 13% today. More than 35% will be over 50.

One big question looms over these developments: Will those years be vigorous and healthy, or will baby boomers sink into the pain and disability of chronic disease? A lot hangs on the answer.

Will Boomers Stay Healthy?

Baby boomers now make up 26% of the U.S. population. A fragile, dependent population of aging boomers would place tremendous demands on Medicare, and require lots of support from professional caregivers and the boomers' own children.

Widespread obesity among boomers, combined with lack of exercise, could lead to an epidemic of diabetes, which dramatically accelerates aging and leads to a host of chronic diseases. The number of obese Americans 55-64 has jumped from 31% (1988-1994) to 39% (1999-2002), according to Health, United States, 2005, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Other signs suggest, however, that boomers will enjoy not just increased longevity but better health as well. Since 1950, the death rate for heart disease has dropped by 60% and for stroke by 70%, according to Health, United States. Since 1990 the death rate for cancer has dropped by 10%.

That suggests that many boomers may be aging more slowly than previous generations because of healthy habits, such as less smoking and more exercise. Maybe 60 really is the new 50.

"The influence of aging on society depends on which view you accept," Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells WebMD. "Longer life spans would be a burden if additional years were spent in a frail, dependent condition, but I don't hold that pessimistic view. I think there's a lot of evidence that people are healthier mentally and physically than they used to be."  



Robert W. Stock     Baby Boomers And What Life Holds For Them
Robert W. Stock

Welcome, Baby Boomers. In another year or two you're going to start retiring and joining us old folks. You better get ready. After all these decades of being the toast of the town, the biggest-ever generation to whom attention must be paid, you're about to become passé.  Or not.

For generations, elders in America have been treated the way you used to treat that kid in your class who was just a little smaller or weaker, a little different. We've been dissed as unattractive, unproductive, unequal, and decidedly uncool.

ARP The Jan/Feb 2010 cover of 
  AARP Magazine featured Clint Eastwood, 82.

You may do somewhat better, partly because of your sheer size. There will be almost twice as many people 65 and over strolling the sidewalks and filling up the supermarket aisles a couple of decades from now. You'll also be healthier than we are, with more political and economic clout.

On the other hand, you might actually encounter an increase in age bias – when the rest of the country realizes what it's costing them to provide all of you with pensions and health care.

I like to think our generation has made some progress toward overcoming ageism, at least with the image-makers: More and more older heroes storm through today's detective novels, while growing numbers of older actors play romantic and/or action roles, people like Harrison Ford (69), Diane Keaton (65), and Clint Eastwood (82). Those gray-haired lovebirds in the Cialis ads bear little resemblance to Ma and Pa Kettle.

Still, studies of the media have found that the more television people watch over the course of their lives, the more negative their feelings about aging.

Scientific research as to the current state of ageism overall is limited, but experts like Robert N. Butler, the pioneering gerontologist, and Erdman Palmore, a Duke University authority on the topic, suspect there has been some small improvement. At the same time, they warn that age discrimination remains an all-pervasive, destructive presence in the American culture.



                                                                  Christie Brinkley, 59

Most of you Boomers are too young to have experienced age bias, but you will. It keeps you from getting jobs, or keeping one. It leads doctors to withhold or modify treatment according to your age instead of your particular condition. Salespeople look past you. You're ushered to inferior seats in restaurants. Simply because your appearance identifies you as someone who has lived a significant number of years, you're penalized, patronized, and ignored.

Age discrimination takes many forms. I have an older friend who bridles when a bus driver or a merchant addresses her as "young lady." They think they're offering a pleasantry, she says, "but what they're really doing is putting down the way I am." In general, ageism affects women fare far worse than men.

A few months ago, I heard a couple of guys on National Public Radio having a lot of fun with General Motors because its first new, long-gestating model after emerging from bankruptcy turned out to be a Buick. Why in the world would the company lead off with a brand for old people, the NPR pair wondered, and did it come with a built-in dialysis machine?

What a hoot! Obviously, any car identified with old people was fair game for a joke, just like old people themselves. I'd been driving Buicks much of my life, and until then I never realized there was anything funny about them – or about me at the wheel – or about dialysis, for that matter.

Ageism is serious business for every generation, you Boomers included. The culture plants feelings of fear and disgust about getting old in our children's psyches. They grow up to waste untold hours in front of mirrors looking for gray hairs or slack skin and billions of dollars a year on anti-aging cosmetics and cosmetic surgery.

Inevitably, ageism influences the way they treat old people; eventually, they direct that bias against themselves. As older men and women, they're embarrassed by their infirmities, their forgetfulness, their diminished libido. They're ashamed of who they are.

And then ageism exacts a final toll. According to a study by Becca Levy, a Yale University professor, people with a negative view of aging when young live an average of 7.5 fewer years than those with a more positive view.

In historic terms, ageism is a latecomer. Our Puritan founders believed long life was a gift from God. The elderly were to be revered and their advice sought. And nobody put down old people when we were an agricultural society and they owned the land. All that began to change when secular individualism replaced religious belief and the industrial revolution replaced the farm.

Some of those early good feelings toward the elderly still linger, of course. We're parents and grandparents, after all. There's love involved. In your everyday dealings, you don't set out to insult or injure us old folks. Yet we end up being patronized, rejected, and blatantly discriminated against.

Will you Boomers be able to lessen age bias and uproot the ugly image of old people embedded in our culture. Erdman Palmore thinks it's possible. "It's a generation that's used to standing up for its rights and standing up for minority groups," he says.

Christie Brinkley thinks so, too. "Thank heavens for Baby Boomers," the 55-year-old super model told ET earlier this year. "Ageism is going by the wayside now." I sure hope she's right.
Filed under: Nation, Top Stories



By the year 2010, a large percentage of the workforce will be retiring. This is causing what has been referred to as a "huge knowledge gap". As this generation approaches their retirement years, companies are starting to change the ways that they define work. This outflow of competent workers also opens up many new job opportunities, even during a time when the economy is not growing.

One of the interesting ways that the aging workforce is changing the way we work is by bringing a measure of flexibility to the office. Companies are finding that employees in this age group require different work conditions. They are less interested in working long hours, less defined by their careers, and much more interested in part time work. As a result of this trend, "quality of life" has become a key phrase. Telecommuting, job sharing, part time work and flex scheduling can be partially attributed to this generation's influence.

Alliance for an Experienced Workforce

Within the past few years, nearly two dozen industry associations have grouped together to create a new organization, the Alliance for an Experienced Workforce. This group works with employers to find creative ways to keep the retiring baby boomers working.

Some of the popular options include more training, to keep the skills of the older workers current and relevant to the changes in technology. Other suggestions include enticing older tech workers to stay in the workforce by offering options like job-sharing, flex-time, and part-time work.

Financial Considerations

The unfortunate reality for many baby boomers is that full retirement is not financially viable. As a result, many will need to continue working, at least part time, to support themselves.

Fewer Workers = More Job Openings

As more baby boomers retire, there are fewer replacement workers to take over. Even if the economy is in a downturn, overall, there will still be a need for specialized workers to take over these new openings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, during the next decade, one of highest in-demand fields will be computer services.

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