Categorized | Sondra's Musings

Oldest boomers original yet conventional

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By Sondra Shapiro

As a typical age-denying boomer I was floored to hear the oldest members of my cohort are eligible for full Social Security benefits. It just isn’t possible that the generation that coined the phrase, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” is now in its golden years. Let alone the fact that Jack Weinberg, the guy who coined the phrase, is 73.

As I get used to the idea that most of my fellow high school graduates, class of ’71, are turning 60, the lyrics of an old Sonny & Cher song come to mind: “The beat goes on.”

shapiro_hsNarcissistic by nature, our 78 million strong — born between 1946 and 1964 — have thought of ourselves as unique and wonderful. Perhaps our perceptions are shaped by the intense media and marketing fascination with my generation. After all, our every move has been documented, analyzed and criticized — from our self-indulgent, rabble-rousing ways to our obsession with staying “forever young.”

Now, the oldest among us, who turned age 66 in 2012, are the subject of a study by MetLife Mature Market Institute aptly named, “The Oldest Boomers are Healthy, Retiring Rapidly and Collecting Social Security.”

Subjects were followed from age 62 to 67 as the study collected data on their finances, housing status, family lives and their views on generational issues.

One surprise. The figures show this group is rather conventional in its retirement decisions. Out of the 86 percent collecting Social Security, 43 percent said they began tapping benefits earlier than they expected. So, what happened to the generational boast that we would work till we drop?

More than half of the boomers born in 1946 are fully retired. Of those, 38 percent said they were financially ready, while 17 percent cited health reasons and 10 percent attributed a job loss.

In 2007 and 2008, only 19 percent of the oldest boomers were retired; by 2011, that figure had made a significant leap to 45 percent who were retired.

True to our health conscious leanings, it isn’t surprising to learn most of this group is feeling hale and hearty and won’t view themselves as “old” until they reach the average age of 78.5. Most questioned feel mentally sharp, but 30 percent admit that they aren’t as on the ball as when they were in their 40s.

Many who are retired say they have less income than when they were working, yet lower income does not always equal a lower standard of living, as only 20 percent felt theirs had declined.

“As the oldest boomers dive into retirement, even though some have been forced to do so earlier than expected, they seem to be ‘feelin’ groovy,’ as this group would have said during their formative years,” said Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. On the negative side, she said, “a good half of this group may not have achieved their retirement savings goals and are not confident about paying for the next phase of their lives.”

Boomers are notoriously known as spenders not savers. And now the oldest among us are paying the price.

One of the major concerns is not being able to pay for long-term care. Only a small percentage owns a long-term care insurance policy.

Unlike our parents’ generation who moved to warmer climates in old age, boomers would prefer to age in place, though 8.6 percent report being “upside down” on their mortgage, owing more than the value of their home.

Almost 80 percent of the oldest boomers don’t have a living parent, but more than one in 10 is providing regular care for an older relative. Surprisingly, only 4.8 percent have grandchildren.

At our core, we boomers are a caring, nurturing group despite our self-indulgent proclivities.

We have championed civic involvement. We joined the Peace Corp. We demonstrated against the Vietnam War and for equal rights for women and racial equality. So it is no surprise to hear that the oldest members of my generation are committed to remaining active and engaged, with more than half believing we are leaving a positive legacy for future generations.

There is no denying we have redefined every stage of life. Where our parents grew up being seen but not heard, we spent our youth shouting from rooftops. Where our parents aged gracefully, we have spawned an entire industry dedicated to making us feel and look young.

I have heard many stories of boomers re-defining themselves in later life — pursuing educational, volunteer and career opportunities.

Though I am occasionally overwhelmed by the passage of time, I remember that it has been time well spent. These generational pathfinders prove the days to come offer more opportunity to live a fulfilling life, dispelling another line from the Sonny & Cher hit: “Grandmas sit in chairs and reminisce.” Nope, that’s not for us. Instead, “The beat goes on.”

Sondra Shapiro is the publisher of Fifty Plus Life. She can be reached at sshapiro@thefiftypluslife.com. Read more at thefiftypluslife.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/shapiro50plus.

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