The transition from the working life to the retired life can be difficult and disrupting. So it should come as no surprise that anxieties have blossomed among baby boomers concerned about the financial, social and physical challenges of growing older. Those anxieties begin to bud when middle managers realize their gray hair is a liability for the next job interview, and grow until our diminished physical capability in later years leads to some loss of control in our lives and the feelings of invisibility and irrelevance that can come with it.
Boomers were born during a time of post-war national prosperity. But the fact that there are so many of us has created a competitive world – a battle for resources that we have waged throughout our lives, from college admissions to landing a job to buying a home, and now to the struggle for resources in retirement as we begin to put financial pressure on Social Security and Medicare. Recent surveys by the Center for a Secure Retirement, AARP and other organizations suggest some of the issues that worry middle class baby boomers the most:
High anxiety. According to a poll by AARP, baby boomers are more worried than any other age group about retirement security. Over 70 percent of boomers expect that they will have to delay retirement, and half of us fear we will never be able to give up the 9-to-5. The organization used a number of economic factors, from inflation to affordability of health care, to create an anxiety index. People between ages 50 and 64 topped 70 percent on the index, while younger people scored 50 percent and the 65-plus crowd came in at a relatively contented 46 percent.
Young at any age. Ironically, most baby boomers do not worry too much about how long they're going to live. Experts suggest that many boomers feel as much as 15 years younger than people the same age a generation ago. Boomers peg "old age" at somewhere around 78 or 80, and most boomers without major health problems just assume they're going to live to about 86. That's a reasonable assumption. The life expectancy of a current 60 year old, according to government statistics, has reached a record 84 years.
Health care. Boomers believe that their health is pretty much out of their control. According to the Center for a Secure Retirement, 65 percent of middle-age Americans think their health is mostly determined by their genes, as opposed to 46 percent who say it's largely controlled by diet and 44 percent who credit exercise as the key to health. However, we boomers still do worry about declining health in our advancing years. Nearly four times as many boomers worry about health more than they worry about finances or outliving their money. Most of us are concerned about escalating health care costs – at the very time when we are beginning to have increased needs for medical services and costly prescription drugs.
Money matters. Boomers have very mixed emotions about their finances. Despite our worries, few of us have calculated the actual amount of income we will need in retirement, and fewer still have figured out how much savings we need to produce that income. But many boomers say they already have downsized their lifestyle and curtailed spending so they will have enough money in their sunset years. Many have also come to terms with the prospect of delayed retirement, and say they are willing to either stay in their current jobs longer, or work at least part time in retirement in order to make ends meet. About a quarter of baby boomers say they are open to the possibility of selling their home in order to raise money for retirement expenses.
Message delivered. Boomers in general cite a desire for a simpler, less expensive lifestyle. That dovetails nicely with the fact that many do not have enough savings to support their current spending in retirement. The boomer desire to continue working in some way during retirement also helps. Still, with the mobility of modern life and the fraying of American families, many boomers wonder who will take care of them when they eventually become old and incapacitated.
Meanwhile, some 70 percent of current retirees rely on Social Security for at least half of their income. Yet almost 80 percent of boomers worry that the future of Social Security is in jeopardy, and a third believe that in 20 years Social Security as we know it will be a thing of the past.
So if we hear one message from the baby boomers, it should ring loud and clear: Protect Social Security and Medicare on behalf of all of us.
Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement, and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.