They were the largest generation in American history. Their impact on American society still reverberates today. They were the forerunners of a cultural revolution that helped transform the nation and Western civilization. They are baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964.
The largest and most devastating global war in world history ended in August 1945, before
the first of the boomers were born. World War II claimed nearly 85 million lives and involved more than 100 million people from 30 nations. Nine months later, almost to the date of the war’s end, as historian Landon Jones observed, “the cry of the baby was heard across the land.”
The first baby boomers were born, 3.4 million, a 20% increase from the previous year. In 1947, another 3.8 million were born. And on and on. Nearly 3.9 million were born in 1952, and more than 4 million were born every year from 1954 to 1964. The boom, which subsided slightly in 1964, produced more than 76 million babies, nearly 40% of the nation’s population.[I]
The first boomers began retiring at 65 in 2011. The youngest ones may retire in 2029 (at 65). Unlike members of previous generations, baby boomers are doing life differently. Their expectations and outlooks are as unique and as colorful as their upbringings.
What can we expect from baby boomers in retirement? Here are some indicators.
Boomers are living longer.
Even though they were born during some of the nation’s most tumultuous years, including several strange and deadly wars and the assassination of a president, retiring boomers can expect to live longer. Boomers’ life expectancy extends into their mid 80s with one in four passing the 90-year-old mark.[ii] The longer and sometimes fuller lifespans are helping to repaint the traditional picture of retirement, which has been viewed historically as a transition into a feeble and frail stage of life.
The commercial sector is increasingly accommodating the demand of these more active and independent retirees who are looking to fill their golden years with more meaningful pursuits. Despite the stereotypes, three of five baby boomers have indicated they plan to continue working past the age of 65.[iii]
While the decision to work after retirement may be motivated by the desire to remain connected and productive, many boomers are finding employment income fills the gap from shortfalls in retirement savings.[iv]
Boomers are remaining active.
Boomers were raised on physical fitness gurus Olivia Newton-John, Richard Simmons, and Jane Fonda.[v] And they expect to carry that dedication far into their retirement years.
“Boomers are the first generation that grew up exercising, and the first that expects, indeed demands, that they be able to exercise into their 70s,” said Dr. Nicholas A. DiNubile, a Philadelphia orthopedic surgeon. “But evolution doesn’t work that quick. Physically, you can’t necessarily do at 50 what you did at 25. We’ve worn out the warranty on some body parts. That’s why so many boomers are breaking down. It ought to be called Generation Ouch.”[vi]
Most boomers (57.9%) generally gravitate to fitness sports, experts say. Individual sports come in second at 24.4%.[vii] As they did in their heydays, boomers who are climbing into their 60s and 70s are redefining the labels of what it means to be old.
In the 1920s, 55 was considered old; today it’s “middle-aged.” Retirees were considered “very old” at 65 in the 1920s. Now it’s just “old.” “Very old” today is considered 80 (which obviously may change as increasing numbers of boomers become octogenarians).[viii]
Researchers say “passion” for physical fitness is boomers’ top motivator for exercising. However, boomers view the pursuit of physical wellbeing as more of a necessary evil.
“When I go to a gym and look around, I don’t see a lot of excitement or laughter; people are putting in their time almost as prisoners on their solitary workout stations. They’re working away, and relieved when it’s over,” said James Gavin, professor of Applied Human Services at Concordia University’s Department of Applied Human Sciences. Gavin led a study on boomer fitness.[ix]
Boomers start businesses.
While conventional retirement may have sounded like a natural transition for sexagenarians of generations past, boomers are opting for more innovative ways to spend their time, including starting their own businesses. Self-employment income can supplement retirement saving income rather nicely.
About 18% of people 65 and older (mostly boomers) are considered self-employed. Boomers are gravitating to startups in particular for the additional money and to keep their intellects active.[x] Most of those boomer businesses (80%) are geared toward bolstering the lifestyles they want to pursue.[xi]