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Baby Boomers: A New Way to Grow Old

Experts explain why baby boomers aren't likely to rest on their laurels when they retire.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Baby boomers won't grow old the old-fashioned way, experts say.

It looks like the baby boomers, who used to urge each other to "do your own thing," will do precisely that when it comes to retirement.

Some will imitate their parents and drop out of the work force as early as possible to begin a life of leisure, continuing a trend that began more than a century ago.

More than 80% of boomers, however, plan to work beyond the age of 65, according to the Merrill Lynch New Retirement Survey. Most will do so to supplement their Social Security checks, since at least one-quarter of boomer households have failed to save enough for retirement, according to the Congressional Budget Office. "They appear likely to depend entirely on government benefits in retirement," the CBO report states.

Lending a Helping Hand

Some boomers will retire and then devote themselves to volunteer work, preferably in positions they find meaningful and relevant, such as teaching children to read.

If the boomers remain healthy and engaged in productive work, they could have a profound impact on American society, which is why several agencies are trying to draw boomers into volunteering.

At the recent White House Conference on Aging, the National Council on Aging submitted resolutions to promote volunteer activities among older people. One resolution called for the creation of a federal commission to "develop a blueprint for tapping older adults as a source of social capital."

Baby Boomer Skills

What makes that reservoir of social capital deep as well as broad is the skill level of baby boomers, according to Peter Francese, founder of American Demographic magazine and demographic trends analyst for Ogilvy and Mather.

"What group of men is the best educated in America? Men between the ages of 50 and 59," Francese tells WebMD.

Marc Freedman, the founder and CEO of Civic Ventures, has long been encouraging aging baby boomers to provide service to American society through volunteering and involvement in late-life careers.

In his book, Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America, Freedman lays out a vision of this huge, aging generation engaging in social activism, volunteer activities, and lifelong learning.

"The boomers will not accept the old notions of later life and retirement," he writes. "They will refuse to remove themselves, go away, or put up with being taken 'out of use or circulation.'"

Freedman also helped found Experience Corps, which recruits older people to tutor and serve as mentors to inner-city school children. Experience Corps operates in 14 cities and has more than 1,800 volunteers who spend at least 15 hours a week helping children.

This obviously is a great benefit to the children, an example of what Freedman calls the "potential windfall" to American society that baby boomers can provide.

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