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Many Baby Boomers Turn 65 in 2011

Get Ready America!

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Updated January 05, 2011

The first baby boomers are turning 65 this year. If you listen to some people, there is a “sky is falling” tone whenever the baby boomers are mentioned. Economists love to do the math on how much the boomers will cost Medicare and Social Security. However, missing from the conversation is the upside of the baby boomers retiring. Over the past few years, the baby boomer generation has redefined aging. Frankly, I'm feeling optimistic about the baby boomers taking on retirement and looking forward to watching them find new meanings and ways of aging.

As we try to understand what it means for the first baby boomers to be retiring, it is a good idea to take a minute to review some of the basic facts about the baby boomer generation.

Baby Boomer Statistics

Here are some interesting statistics about the baby boomers:
    In 2011, 13% of the U.S. population is age 65 or older.
  • In 2030, 18% of the U.S. population will be age 65 or older.
  • There are 75 million people in the “baby boomer” generation.
  • 2.8 million baby boomers will become eligible for Medicare in 2011.

Baby Boomer Life Expectancy

Of course, an important question is "What is the life expectancy of the baby boomers?" Life expectancy works in a strange way. Each year you live pushes your life expectancy a little further (because you made it to your current age). For example, the U.S. life expectancy at birth is 77.9 years (75.4 for men and 80.4 for women – read more about male/female life expectancy differences). But when a person makes it to 65, their life expectancy improves to 83.6 years (82.2 for men and 84.9 for women). It gets even better at age 75. Those who make it to 75 have a life expectancy of 86.7 (85.6 for men and 87.5 for women).

Baby Boomer Health and Wealth

A second important question is "What quality of life will the baby boomers have?" This is a complex question, but we can divide it into two essential components: health and wealth. For health, we can expect to see continual advances in treating and managing many of the age-related health conditions. We may see increases in the numbers of people living with chronic health conditions (partly due to age and partly due to better diagnostics). Overall, baby boomers with good diets, good exercise habits and a healthy attitude can expect pretty decent health.

For wealth, the outlook is not as good. Baby boomers, on the whole, do not have enough money saved to cover the costs of retirement for a longer life expectancy (after all, we are talking about saving enough money at age 65 to live on for 18.6 years or more). That's a long time. Unfortunately, the finances of many pension funds and Social Security itself just don't work too well for almost 20 years of retirement. But let's look to some examples of the positive sides of baby boomers retiring.

Baby Boomer Surprises

One of the most positive changes is that many baby boomers simply aren't retiring. This is good and healthy. In many of the most long-lived cultures, the concept of retirement does not exist. People stayed engaged and active in their communities their whole lives. More and more, baby boomers are working or beginning a second career even after "retirement age." Not only that, these individuals continue to be cultural, intellectual and other types of leaders. In fact, old age seems to be getting cool. If you don't believe me, look at this list of "mature" stars from top ten grossing music concert tours for 2010:
  • Bon Jovi (age 48), #1 music tour with $201 million worldwide
  • AC/DC (lead singer Brian Johnson, age 63) #2 (tied) music tour with $177 million worldwide
  • Roger Waters (age 67), #2 (tied) music tour with $90 million worldwide from a mid-year start
  • Dave Matthews Band (Dave Matthews, age 43) #4 music tour with $72.9 million
  • The Eagles (singer Glenn Frey, age 62) #6 with tour with $64.5 million
  • Paul McCartney (age 68) #7 music tour with $61.8 million
  • James Taylor (age 62): #8 music tour with $50.7 million
I was pretty shocked to see these numbers - that seven of the top 10 music tours for 2010 were led by people 48 or older, with some pushing 70. Old age is cool (and profitable). Once you think about it, you start to see this trend in a lot of places. Movie star Jeff Bridges, for example, starred in two blockbuster films in early 2011. He was born in 1941.

Get Ready for the New Aging

This rapid increase in citizens over the age of 65 will change a lot about our culture, such as potentially increasing taxes to pay for their medical care. But I think we should also look at the benefits of having (proportionally) more seniors around. I think we can look forward to some innovation and new energy. Already, there are organizations like Experience Corps that seek to use the knowledge and experience of "seniors" to benefit society. I think we will see more and more of this type of activity, with seniors making meaningful contributions well past 65.

Sources:

U.S. Census Bureau. Age Data of the United States

Older Americans 2010. Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics.

Centers for Disease Control. Fastats on Life Expectancy.

Top Tours 2010. Pollstar.com

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