By now most baby boomers have enjoyed “senior discounts” at movie theaters, restaurants and other retail businesses trying to generate more customer traffic.
We’ve told themselves we’re not really old at age 55, 60 and so on. After all, 50 is the new 30, and 60 is the new 40.
But this year the oldest of the baby boomers turns 70, and that’s a landmark, senior-citizen age in anyone’s book. Baby boomers were the more than 75 million, self-indulged, post-World War II generation born from 1946 to 1964.
Boomers swelled hospitals beyond capacity when they were born, overwhelmed schools and colleges with their immense numbers, and then stretched the job market, the housing market and the economy when they aged into adulthood. Get ready because boomers are bound to have the same overloading effect on Social Security, Medicare, nursing homes and hospitals.
The January-February issue of AARP Bulletin notes that about 3.4 million babies arrived in the first boomer year as soldiers returned from fighting eager to get married, start families, get an education and buy homes, taking advantage of the GI Bill. About 2.1 million of those boomers still around will turn 70 years old. The article notes the changes that have occurred in their lifetime.
They grew up at a time when the United States was 90 percent white, and segregation was the law of the land. Most people lived in traditional families, where Mom stayed home, Dad went to work and there were 3.5 children in the household.
Of the 70-year-olds this year, 76 percent are white; 9 percent, black; 9 percent, Latino; 5 percent, Asian; and 2 percent other.
By 2044 whites will be a minority in the U.S. Families already include the traditional model as well as households headed by one parent, a guardian, a grandparent or a same sex-couple.
The article reports that turning 70 for some has meant “shifts in attitude growing out of the civil rights movement,” filling more people’s lives “with more opportunity.”
“Women born in 1946 saw perhaps even greater changes in their roles in society,” the AARP notes. “Since their birth the percentage of American women in the workforce has soared — from 31 percent in 1946 to 57 percent today. The percentage of 70-plus women who are still working is expected to rise from 30 percent to 39 percent by 2024.”
These boomers are well-educated — 30 percent are college graduates, and 14 percent have advanced degrees. They were old enough that the draft was still in place during the Vietnam War so 40 percent of the males served in the military; 1 percent of the females did.
Of the oldest boomers, 62 percent were married once, 23 percent twice and 9 percent were married three or more times. Six percent were never married.
The AARP reports that 38 percent of the new 70-year-olds are Democrats, 36 percent Republicans, 12 percent independents and 13 percent have no political ties. Expect these boomers to vote this election year — 84 percent vote in local elections, 84 percent vote in statewide elections and 91 percent cast ballots in presidential elections.
Seventy-year-old boomers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender have seen acceptance increase. A Supreme Court ruling last year enabled same sex couples to get married. That had been unthinkable in 1940s America.
“Compared with people reaching the same age in 1965, the new 70-year-olds can expect 15 more years of life,” the article notes. Lifestyle and medical advances have reduced smoking and deaths from heart disease and cancer.
“On the other hand, living longer will mean that more people turning 70 will deal with Alzheimer’s,” the AARP says. That’s a disease for which there is no known cause or cure. Age increases the likelihood that more people will suffer this or other forms of dementia.
Older boomers also weren’t the best at saving for the future. Median family income in the U.S. adjusted for inflation rose from $27,000 in 1946 to $62,000 today; the 70-year-old boomers had a median household income of $55,900; 78 percent live in a single-family home.
However, more than four out of 10 of the boomers hitting age 70 this year “risk running out of money in retirement,” according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. More are likely to continue working, and by 2022, nearly a quarter of people age 70 to 74 will be working, double the amount in 1992.
How life goes for them in their 70s will likely be how things shape up for the rest of us younger boomers, too. It could lead to a new old-age activism if conditions aren’t what we think they should be.