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Don’t Fret Over 50th Birthday

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: I am about to turn 50 and am “freaked out.”  I have always been the youngest among my women friends and don’t feel that way anymore.  My friends tell me to think about all I have accomplished and to “get over it.”  Is this a boomer problem?  Can you assist? 

Answer: Congratulations for living 50 years.  If you were born in 1900, you may not have celebrated a 50th birthday since average life expectancy was 47.

Your discomfort may be related to the boomer mantra, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”   It is irrelevant today since the oldest boomer is 63 years old and the youngest if 45.  Yet, turning 50 still seems like the “big one.”

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton turned 50, she was on the cover of Time Magazine.  When Former President Bill Clinton turned 50, it made the front page of the Washington Post, as he was presented his AARP card.

Demographers claim 50-somethings are growing so rapidly that AARP gains a prospective member every eight seconds.

Let’s talk about the boomers and what we know.  The US News & World Report recently published “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Baby Boomers.”  Here are a few items from that report.

In 2030, our nation will be gray.  All baby boomers will be at least 65 in that year.  That’s also the year policy makers identify the time we face the greatest strain on Social Security.  One in five American will be 65 years and older.

Boomers have or had money.  Baby boomers are considered the wealthiest generation in U.S. history.  As a group, they have earned $3.7 trillion.  Many did not save; those who did, lost much of their investments in the financial markets.

Surprise result of financial planning.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, a Consumer Reports National Research Center poll (November 2008) revealed that those who had done financial planning reported worse losses, on average, that those who didn’t plan.  Apparently, those who planned were less conservative.  (This is no reason to ignore finances and all the more reason to be “financially literate.”)

Feeling down.  Boomers are feeling less positive about their lives compared to the generation before and after them.  A Pew Research Center Survey found that about 55 percent of boomers say it is likely their income won’t keep up with the cost of living, compared to 43 percent of older adults and 44 percent of younger adults.

Parents moving in.  Intergenerational households are a cost savings.  The Census Bureau reports that more than 3.6 million parents lived with their adult children in 2007.  About a quarter of boomers expect their parents or in-laws to move in with them, according to AARP.  Note that Marian Robinson, mother-in-law of President Obama, has moved into the White House. Clearly this is not a financial move.  But it may make “living together” more of a model or social norm for our society.

Working longer.  Boomers will have to work at least one year longer to recoup stock market losses, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.   Employees who have spent 20 to 29 years working will need to work one year and nine months to recover their losses. AARP reports that 70 percent of those age 45 to 74 plan to work during their retirement years because they need the money or for the pleasure they derive from working.

So what’s the good news about turning 50?

You have about 35 years of life ahead of you. What a gift.  We are living longer and healthier than ever before.  One can change careers, have deeper relationships, continue to learn and grow and contribute to society in new ways.

And we know we can slow down the normal aging process.  Regular physical activity slows physical aging.  Mental exercise can create new neural pathways in our brain.  And creativity does not diminish with age; experts agree age is an asset.

Seize the moment; life is a gift of time.  There is time to recover financial losses, time to turn wrongs into rights and to make life significant for you, for others, our community and yes, our nation.  Celebrate and have a blast on your birthday!

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.

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