The National Council on Aging (in partnership with USA Today and UnitedHealthcare) conducted a survey of 2,250 people over 60, with results that might surprise you.
Contrary to the popular image of aging being a source of dread and anxiety, three-quarters of people surveyed expect their lives to stay the same or get better over the next 5 to 10 years. This might at first be read as a “Nowhere to go but up” attitude, but two-thirds of people over 60 said that the past year has been normal or better for them.
Some analysts attribute this in part to the recession not having quite the same effect on these generations, which include the leading edge of the baby boom and their parents. Many managed to sell their homes before the market plummeted (those who aren’t aging in place), and many were able to retire with their full pensions, again before the economic downturn gouged retirement plans across the nation.
Had baby boomers been polled as a whole, the results might have been quite different. The younger boomers are more likely to still be working and more likely to have been hit harder by the recession. They and the generations that follow face a very different Social Security and Medicare system yet the same or higher potential medical and long-term care costs. Those still working are faced with significantly pared-down retirement plans (such as no matching contributions) and are likely to continue working long past retirement age.
But having to work past retirement age just happens to coincide with people wanting to do so. One reason for optimism about aging (for all ages) is knowing that we are living longer and healthier with each passing year. As I’ve discussed before (The Retirement Age Myth) the entire concept of a retirement age is rather pointless in this day and age, when retirement is no longer desirable for many, and it certainly isn’t age-based.
In fact, many of the gloomier predictions about our future, and especially about the future for people over 50, tie in with opportunities to reimagine our lives and work in ways that not only counter potential problems of the future but use them as a springboard for making our Third and Fourth Ages the most meaningful, productive years yet. But we have to start making the necessary changes now.
If we look at some of the most common obstacles we face, we can see how solving them is a byproduct of simply creating the life and work we want in the coming decades. For example, the possibility of Social Security dwindling in the future is offset by more and more people continuing to work and delaying Social Security payments. The longer a person waits to start receiving Social Security, the higher the payments will be, every month, for life.
As already noted, for various reasons, many of us need to keep working past retirement age. But this is an opportunity to seek work we enjoy, work that has meaning, work that enables us to make a profit and a difference. It doesn’t have to mean a life sentence in a career that stifles us. Why not choose work you want to do rather than working because you have to?
We also have it in our power to affect the future of medicine and health care. We just have to act now. Speak up to your representatives not only about health care but about funding and education in science and technology—the keys to treatments and even cures for the most expensive medical problems we potentially face as we age.
We can also be active in building and reinventing our communities to support us at every age and stage, minimizing our expenses and, perhaps more important, our fears about continuing to live independently into our 80s, 90s, and beyond. (I wrote more about this here. Communities of the Future)
Perhaps most important is to realize that all the opportunities we have to change how and where we live and work and how we manage our health and our finances are opportunities we share with all generations, not just our own. Mutually beneficial communities, health care that doesn’t bankrupt us, medical advances, flexible work arrangements . . . all these and more are just as important to people under 50 as they are to the 50-plus population, just for different reasons. This is why it is crucial for us to consider all aging-related issues as part of a conversation we have with multiple generations, not just our own.
We all have reasons to be optimistic about our future now. Together, we can create a future that lives up to that optimism.