Corporate interns, NBA dance squads and skydiving seem like the pursuits of Millennials and iGen-ers. But they are increasingly popular activities for Baby Boomers and beyond. Indeed, today’s seniors are defying aging stereotypes by staying active, working in new ways and redefining what’s “age appropriate.”
The U.S. population is getting older as the enormous Baby Boomer generation ages and the silent generation expands the number of 80- and 90-year-olds—even centenarians—on the one end of the age spectrum, while fewer babies are born on the other.
At the same time, medical advances and changes in the work world are changing vitality and productivity for people in their later years.
Yet globally, society still hangs onto old attitudes about aging. People are considered “old” by their mid-sixties, and they worry about being less mobile or able to do the things they once could, according to a new global survey conducted for the Centre for Aging Better, a U.K. nonprofit by Ipsos Mori.
By contrast, the results showed that Americans see getting old as a time to learn new skills, volunteer more, have more time for travel and spend time with friends and family. These results signal that it’s time for a more modern view of aging. Ipsos has a new name for this cohort: The Perennials.
Americans see aging more optimistically
What’s encouraging is that more Americans look forward to having extra candles on their birthday cake than the global average (40 percent versus 33 percent), according to the Ipsos survey. While about half of the U.S. respondents say they worry about getting old, three-fourths believe they can prepare for this period in life.
Another priority is having the necessary savings to achieve the financial security they look forward to in retirement. In the survey, Americans say the best part about getting old is being financially secure, however, their actual behaviors fall short of what they say they should do to live healthier, longer and more securely.
The data suggests that while organizations like AARP have done a good job of educating the aging population about the need to eat healthier, exercise more, and plan for their financial future, there is a need and corresponding opportunity to help them better achieve those goals.
Policies need to catch up
Such issues highlight the need for business and society to have a comprehensive approach to aging that allows for people to have an array of work and family options, much like those for younger workers starting families.
“Policies need to reflect the value and contributions people make and enable them to balance work and family care needs across the spectrum of life,” says David Parcell, Ipsos senior vice president of consulting. “They also need to reflect the new relativity of age, health span and financial well-being.”
A good start is to reconsider when someone is old. The birthday that U.S. respondents peg as old age is 66, the same as the global average. Not surprisingly, older respondents believe old age comes later and they may be onto something. One South Korean study published in June 2018 suggests how you feel may be as important than the number of actual life years.
“It’s kind of a time warp where behavior hasn’t caught up with the new scientific knowledge,” says Toni Antonucci, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “People thought aging was a passive thing where you didn’t have anything to do about it.”
As people arrive at age 65 in much better shape than they did even a few decades ago, “We need to think about the whole life cycle and how we spend our time,” Antonucci says. Living longer beyond the legal retirement age means “We have a lot more time that we can fill productively,” she adds.