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How to Change the Narrative of Aging in America

A 2017 Influencer in Aging says documenting getting older could lessen ageism


(Next Avenue invited our 2017 Influencers in Aging to blog about the one thing they would like to change about aging in America. One of the posts is below; we will be publishing others regularly.)

If I could change one thing about aging in America, it would be that my fellow boomers would seize what is a historic opportunity by compellingly documenting the joyful experience that is getting older. Through their numbers and influence, the remaining 65 million boomers are in an ideal position to change the narrative of aging in America.

Celebrating the Third Act of Aging in America

While many boomers are still clinging to the remnants of their rapidly fading youth, rather than leading a social revolution dedicated to achieving equality for older people, it’s fair to say they are indeed redefining the concept of aging for the better. The model of aging, forged in the postwar era when boomers were children, is a shadow of what it used to be, particularly when it comes to retirement.

Rather than end one’s career at a predetermined age, usually 65, to embark on a life of leisure in a sunny, warm place, most of today’s sexagenarians and septuagenarians are working as long as they can and staying put in their homes. For them, their third act is not all that different from their second, a lifestyle choice that is serving to blur the lines of age.

Although some boomers are suffering from a kind of identity crisis, not quite sure of their mission in life, this blending of middle age with seniority is helping to reintegrate older people back into the mainstream. This is a wonderful thing and its significance cannot be underestimated. The transformation of one’s later years from a distinct stage of life to one that is fully incorporated into the entire lifespan represents a historic change that bodes well for aging in America.

Bridging the Generations

Best of all, perhaps, the assimilation of older Americans into the sweep of everyday life offers the possibility of lessening ageism.

As the Golden Girls-like image of older people further recedes into our memory, the divisions between young and less young will likely shrink, bridging generations. Discrimination based on age in the workplace and in social arenas may very well diminish as older folks are seen as not being a separate, less competent part of the population.

It is highly unlikely that the reverence for older citizens that reigned from the nation’s founding through the early decades of the 20th century will ever return, but there is a good chance that boomers will gain more respect in their later years as they normalize the aging experience.

Boomers Will Drive the Economy

Part of the reason I expect there to be a renaissance of sorts for older Americans is that they will collectively change and improve the nation’s employment landscape.

Although they are not yet planning for it  (or even thinking about it), tens of millions of boomers will eventually require a host of services that will exponentially expand the elder care industry. Most octogenarians or nonagenarians will require assistance in health care, housing, transportation and other basics of daily life as they age in place, making each of them a prime job opportunity for millions of younger people. According to an AARP survey, nearly 90 percent of those over age 65 want to stay in their residence for as long as possible, and 80 percent say they believe their current home is where they will always live.

Because of their heavy contribution to the economic well-being of the country, I suggest today’s older Americans — the wealthiest and most consumer-savvy generation their age in history — will be treated in a kinder, gentler way than they are today.

Until they go off to the big Woodstock in the sky, boomers will continue to drive the American economy. This power will literally buy them some insurance protecting them from overt forms of discrimination in the years ahead.

By Lawrence R. Samuel
Lawrence R. Samuel is author of Aging in America and Freud on Madison Avenue. He is founder of Boomers 3.0, a consultancy dedicated to helping organizations develop meaningful relationships with boomers in their third act of life. 

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