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Choices Society Faces About Retiring Boomers

Why companies shouldn't ignore them and what boomers need to do


(This article is the last in a four-part series on retiring boomers. The first three articles were: 1) “What Surprises Boomer Women Professionals When They Retire” 2) “Adjusting to Retirement: 4 Ways Women Professionals Can Get Over the Hump” and 3) “Retired Professional Women: Finding Your New Identity and Work.)

As a society, we revere the young. Our markets are devoted to them. Their views and preferences can move mountains — and parents. They know how to make themselves highly visible. We love them. But they aren’t the only people on the planet.

Our children know that. In their lives, we boomers loom large. They know there are a lot of us, that we have experience and knowledge that can be useful to them and that we have money which we, from time to time, happily bestow on them. That appreciation has not, for some reason, translated to the wider world. There, we are virtually invisible.

Why Retiring Boomers Are Invisible

Why is that? It doesn’t make any sense. Just start with the numbers chalked up by the boomer generation, those of us born between 1946 and 1964. They are surprising and impressive:

  • There are a lot of us. Of the 327 million Americans, a third are over 50 and almost half of those are over 65.
  • Our numbers are growing. Over the next 10 years, the over-50 population is expected to grow by 19 million while the 18-49 group is expected to add 6 million to their ranks.
  • We’re living longer than ever before. Average life expectancy is now in the 80s, and if you live until you are 60 you are likely to live until you are 90.

Given our numbers and longevity, we will necessarily have an impact on our collective future no matter what. The question is: What will that impact be?

2 Choices Society Faces

There really are only two choices. We could be integrated into society, sharing what we know and being productive. Or, we could be shunted to the side as irrelevant, who we are and what we know ignored. When you look at the implications, the choice is clear.

It is axiomatic that vitality and health, both mental and physical, are largely dependent on keeping our bodies active and our brains engaged. They are also dependent on feeling good about ourselves, feeling that we have a reason to be here, that we are valued. If we are healthy, we are likely to be self-sufficient, independent. Not needy.

If we are considered old and done, on the other hand, our well-being, health and self-esteem will deteriorate. We will be dependent — on our families, on society, on the government. Given our numbers, we present a very large potential burden. Who wants to spend all their money taking care of millions of decrepit people? Nobody.

And there’s a more positive reason to keep us engaged. Collectively, we are a national asset. We have decades of experience and tested judgment. We may not be able to run as fast as younger folks, but we know the shortcuts. Instead of spending money taking care of us, why not make money by using what we know?

Continuing to stay involved is a choice many of us would make. At least a third of current retirees want to continue to work — maybe not full-time, maybe on a project basis, but at least some of the time.

How to Employ This Valuable Resource

We should all put on our thinking caps, use our imagination and figure out how to employ this valuable resource. Indeed, with unemployment effectively at 0 percent, it seems an imperative to employ any and all available skills to keep the engines of commerce running.

Finally, our skills and experience are not all we have to offer. After long careers, we are collectively the demographic with the most money. Let’s look at the dollars:

  • 70 percent of disposable income — about $4 trillion — is controlled by boomers, who drive over 50 percent of retail sales, compared to millennials’ 10 percent. We are the third largest economy in the world.
  • The spending power of consumers age 60 or older will hit $15 trillion by the end of the decade, up from $8 trillion in 2010.
  • And here’s a newly very rich cohort — boomer women. We control 95 percent of consumer spending. Women over 50 own more than three quarters of the nation’s wealth. Single women over 50 are said to be the richest demographic in the country.

Given these numbers, it’s hard to understand why companies and marketers are ignoring us. We are an obvious road to riches. But other than those mostly concerned about ameliorating perceived downsides — the financial planning and medical/pharma industries — we are not in anybody’s sights.

Is it something we said?

Well, enough of that.

What Retiring Boomers Need to Do

We have all kinds of ideas about why this is happening, but that’s beside the point. Time for us to get our show on the road, to make our case, to put ourselves on the map. No one’s going to do it for us, so let’s get to work — and learn from millennials how to get the word out there.

Let’s start talking about how vital and engaged we are and what we can contribute to today’s businesses and tomorrow’s generations. Let’s talk about the fact that we vote. And let’s talk about how we want to spend our money to do more than just preserve ourselves. We want to enrich our own lives and the lives of others, too.

Invisible? Not us. We are a force to be reckoned with, and it is time everyone saw it.

Karen Wagner and Erica Baird
By Karen Wagner and Erica Baird
Karen Wagner and Erica Baird founded Lustre after they retired from their successful careers as corporate lawyers. Wagner was the first female litigation partner at a major New York City law firm and Baird was the first female partner in the General Counsel's office of a Big Six accounting firm. Lustre is designed to change attitudes about older women and retirement and create a new picture of what retirement can look like. In addition to Lustre, Wagner’s retirement includes obtaining her pilot's license; Baird’s includes taking design courses. They both serve on nonprofit boards.

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