Saturday, January 14, 2006

Baby Boom generation, aging of

The Baby Boom generation born between 1946 and 1964 makes up nearly one-third of the nation's population-76 million strong. Because this generation is rapidly reaching the threshold of age, and by 2030 will boost the total elderly population to its highest point in U.S. history, it is important to review the role it has played in American life. It was this generation that touched off the "age of Aquarius" in the 1960s and that was responsible for the Woodstock concert, the spread of a hippie lifestyle, and the dominance of youth fashions in clothing and hairstyles. It was the Baby Boom generation primarily that fought the Vietnam war and played the major part in the protests against that futile episode.
By the 1970s most of the Baby Boomers had reached working age, their numbers swelling the U. S. labor force by 24 percent. Although there were pockets of unemployment among younger people (most notably among minorities and teenagers) during the 1970s and 1980s, the growth of jobs kept pace with the growth of the labor force, and Baby Boomers have experienced a period of relative prosperity. Along with the expanding young population entering the labor force, women of the Baby Boom have joined the labor market in unprecedented numbers, so that today about half of the U.S. work force is made up of women.
The Baby Boom generation has attained the highest level of education ever achieved in U.S. history, with close to 85 percent having graduated from high school and more than 45 percent having attended or graduated from college. This compares with about 25 percent high school graduates and less than 20 percent college attendees and graduates in the over age 65 population. These high levels of education were achieved as a result of the efforts of generations of Americans who reached old age before the Baby Boom. The older generation expanded the public education system, created community colleges and technical schools, and expanded state colleges, universities, and private higher education so that the oncoming wave of the Baby Boom would acquire the know-how to function and provide leadership during this present technical age. As a result more members of the Baby Boom workforce will occupy higher prestige jobs than any previous generation, and many will be in the $50,000 and up income bracket.
As the Baby Boom generation has reached maturity America experienced its highest divorce rate ever, with an increase from 2.2 divorces per 1,000 population in 1960 to a peak of 5.3 divorces per 1,000 in 1981, the year when divorce began a slow but steady decline. The rate of childbearing slowed, perhaps influenced by the high costs of family formation (rent, purchase of residence, furnishing a home, etc.) as much as by the new workforce commitment of both partners to marriages and the changing styles in family planning. Child bearing has now begun to rise again.
With this already notable history, the next phase of life for the Baby Boom generation- its imminent entry into the ranks of the aging-may well be its most interesting time ever. Already those born at the start of the boom, 1946, have entered middle age and will soon reach 50, with their younger fellows waiting in the wings to join them. During the next century the Baby Boom generation will boost the proportion of the population over age 65 to more than 21 percent of the total, and to over 67 million persons (compared to the 30- 34 million of recent years )-the highest level in American history.
What circumstances and values will the baby boom generation carry with it into age? In view of its unique history as a generation, together with new lifestyles, higher levels of income, and more education, it can be predicted that this group of future elderly will have a prosperous and well-filled old age. No one can forecast the future with certainty, but there are reasons to believe that the aging Baby Boom population and its successors will live their advanced maturity with an unprecedented quality of life. Advances in biological research and medical science have already reduced premature death, and it can be expected that increasing numbers of individuals in the future will reach more and more closely to the biological limit of the human life span-120 years.
In the financial sphere, social planning is providing a foundation for retirement income through the Social Security program. At the same time private business pension coverage of employees has grown from only 12 percent of all workers and 4 million persons in the late 1930s to half of all workers and over 40 million persons in the 1980s. With over 90 percent of government employees, representing approximately another 15 million workers, also covered by public pension plans, it is evident that the majority of the work force in the future ought to have a sufficiently high level of income to experience a financially comfortable old age.
In recent years the United States has begun to develop new patterns for retirement living that ensure an increasing level of enjoyment of leisure for the future older population. Retirement communities, retirement housing centers, and lifecare centers (see RESIDENCES) now number well over 2,500 across the land. Facilities like these provide recreation, relieve their older residents of the burdens of home maintenance and care of surroundings, and offer maximum opportunity for social relationships and support from peers. While such patterns of living are still new and only involve about 10 percent of the elderly population, their rapid growth suggests a trend that may well become the pattern for future residential living by the elderly population.
The higher levels of education of the Baby Boom generation give it an unprecedented opportunity to plan life with wisdom. Insight, good judgment, and thoughtful planning all rest on the fund of knowledge that people possess, and if what Thomas Jefferson said-"knowledge is power, knowledge is safety, knowledge is happiness"-is true, then the Baby Boomers should have attained these qualities in greater abundance than any generation in history. Given such foundations, the work of the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) and organizations like Ken Dychtwald's Age Wave of Emeryville, California, and Edith Tucker's United Retirement Bulletin published by United Business Services of Boston, Massachusetts, should achieve outstanding success in supplying the elderly with solid information on mature living.
American business is recognizing the older population as a consumer market and is beginning to develop products and marketing systems directed to it. Advertisers increasingly portray older people in their photographs and displays, featuring mature models in upbeat advertisements for cosmetics, automobiles, and fashions. Manufacturers have developed specially designed clothing and lightweight golf clubs, and the leisure industry has designed travel tour packages to mention only a few such adaptations for the mature market.
Ultimately, developments during the present, and in the probable future of the baby boom generation, suggest that American attitudes about age will become more positive than they have been traditionally. Instead of shunning or looking on age with aversion, future generations of Americans may look forward with pleasure to the advanced years of life. Social customs and social attitudes may even change enough so that the last years become the best years.
Keeney, C. "Baby Boomer," in Aging, Goldstein, E. C., ed. Vol. 2, Art. 80. Boca Raton, Fl.: Social Issues Resource Series, Inc., 1981.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1989, 109th ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989.


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