Washington Baby boomers say wrinkles aren’t so bad and they’re not that worried about dying. Just don’t call them “old.”
The generation that once powered a youth movement isn’t ready to symbolize the aging of America, even as its first members are becoming eligible for Medicare. A new poll finds three-quarters of all baby boomers still consider themselves middle-aged or younger, and that includes most of the boomers who are ages 57-65.
Younger adults call 60 the start of old age, but baby boomers are pushing that number back, according to the Associated Press-LifeGoes Strong.com poll. The median age they cite is 70. And a quarter of boomers insist you’re not old until you’re 80.
“In my 20s, I would have thought the 60s were bad, but they’re not so bad at all,” says 64-year-old Lynn Brown, a retired legal assistant and grandmother of 11 living near Phoenix in Apache Junction, Ariz.
The 77 million boomers are celebrating their 47th through 65th birthdays this year.
Overall, they’re upbeat about their futures. Americans born in the population explosion after World War II are more likely to be excited about the positive aspects of aging, such as retirement, than worried about the negatives, like declining health. A third of those polled feel confident about growing older, almost twice as many as find it frustrating or sad. Sixteen percent report they’re happy about aging, about equal to the number who say they’re afraid. Most expect to live longer than their parents.
“I still think I’ve got years to go to do things,” says Robert Bechtel, 64, of Virginia Beach, Va. He retired last year after nearly four decades as a retail manager. Now Bechtel has less stress and more time to do what he pleases, including designing a bunk bed for his grandchildren, remodeling a bathroom and teaching Sunday school.
A strong majority of baby boomers are enthusiastic about some perks of aging — watching their children or grandchildren grow up, doing more with friends and family, and getting time for favorite activities. About half say they’re highly excited about retirement. Boomers most frequently offered the wisdom accumulated over their lives as the best thing about aging.
“The older you get, the smarter you get,” says Glenn Farrand, 62, of Ankeny, Iowa. But, he adds, “The physical part of it is the pits.”
Baby boomers most often brought up failing health or fading physical abilities when asked to name the worst thing about getting older.
Among their top worries: physical ailments that would take away their independence (deeply worrisome to 45 percent), losing their memory (44 percent), and being unable to pay medical bills (43 percent). Many also fret about running out of money (41 percent).
Only 18 percent say they worry about dying. Another 22 percent are “moderately” concerned about it. More than two-thirds expect to live to at least age 76; 1 in 6 expects to make it into the 90s.
About half predict a better quality of life for themselves than their parents experienced as they aged.
“My own parents, by the time they were 65 to 70, were very, very inactive and very much old in their minds,” says Brown. So they “sat around the house and didn’t go anywhere.”
“I have no intentions of sitting around the house,” says Brown, whose hobbies include motorcycle rides with her husband. “I’m enjoying being a senior citizen more than my parents did.”
But a minority of boomers — about a fourth — worry things will be harder for them than for the previous generation.
“I think we’ll have less,” said Vicki Mooney, 62, of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., who fears older people will be pinched by cuts to Social Security and Medicare and rising health care costs. “The main difference in the quality of life is wondering if we will have a safety net.”
Baby boomers with higher incomes generally are more optimistic about aging than their poorer peers. Women tend to feel sunnier than men; college graduates are more positive than those without a degree.