I am not a baby boomer. It is not going to be worth the effort to make that distinction much longer, so let me say it one more time just for fun and to get it out of my system: I am not a baby boomer.
Baby boomers are that generation born when their fathers came home from World War II. Officially, the boomer generation begins in 1946 and ends in 1964. I was born in 1941, when the War was just beginning, but I will go to my grave being bunched with the baby boomers. No way to avoid it because boomers have pretty well defined the culture for the past 50 years, and for the next 30 or 40 years the phrase “baby boomer” will be synonymous with “old.”
There are so damned many of them - 78 million - that nobody’s going to pay attention to the finer distinctions of a few birth years on one side of the generation or other. So like it or not, the world will see me forevermore as a baby boomer.
Baby boomers are not just a U.S. phenomenon. That pig-in-the-python generation exists throughout most of the industrialized world and our governments, national and local, and our social service agencies and our economists are wringing their hands lately about the graying of their populations. Even China, so concerned about overpopulation that in 1978, it imposed one-child-per-couple legislation, is now so equally concerned about the imminent increase in their over-60 population that they have loosened the one-baby rule - so far only in Shanghai, but other cities and the country will surely follow suit as the breadth of the problem becomes more evident.
In the short run, the population shift is good for us older folks. It won’t be too long until the marketing professionals twig to the fact that we are a better bet to advertise to than younger folks now because we have more money. According to MarketWatch [free registration required], people older than 50 control about 60 percent of the wealth of U.S. So there will be more television shows aimed at us, and more Jack Nicholson/Diane Keaton-style romance movies and I’ll predict that soon there will actually be fashionable apparel for people whose bodies are past the shape and size of adolescence.
But in the long run – which isn’t all that long from now - the experts say, our increasing numbers are a nightmare. Gen X and Gen Y are much smaller than the boomer generation. There will not be enough people to meet the employment needs of the economy and therefore not enough tax money to cover boomer entitlements. There will not be enough money for us to benefit from the astonishing medical advancements of the past century. There will be too few doctors, nurses, hospitals and care facilities to meet our needs as deterioration sets in.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it won’t be you. It will be all those other millions of boomers who will not be able to care entirely, or at all, for themselves. Because you're going to win the aging-well lottery, right?
Whether you win it or not, there is going to be, in the next decade or so, a backlash of some kind against aging boomers and the amount of resources we use, which is one of the reasons I will be talking here over the coming months about what I call responsible aging. We’re going to need to do it differently from our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. We are going to need to do more for ourselves with less reliance on community and public services and more reliance on each other. We are going to need to reinvent how we get old. And we need to start doing this now.
Meanwhile, however, boomers are so certain they are not going to get old and needy that they are even refusing to be called grandma and grandpa as Ellen Warren of the Chicago Tribune points out about one of the sillier, new boomer attitudes.
Boomers are wrong, you know, about denying the inevitable. Yes, we are richer, better educated, healthier and probably smarter than previous generations and statistics tell us that we will live a lot longer than previous generations. But we are not the first immortals and debilities of aging bodies (and brains) will catch up with us.
I had a different point when I started writing this piece and had no intention of getting so serious today. See what can happen when you get interrupted too many times...
All in all, though, it has turned out to be not a bad introduction to the idea of responsible aging. More to come...