CNN Senior National Editor
Be careful who you call old.
Ask a baby boomer – one of those more than 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 – how old is “old.”
The oldest baby boomers are now 63-years-old; the youngest only 45. The oldest include Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Cher, Reggie Jackson and Sally Field. Among the youngest are Jeff Bezos, Barry Bonds, Michelle Obama, Keanu Reeves and Sarah Palin.
The boomers have shaped the culture and politics of our time. Their movement over the next 20 years from the workforce to whatever they do next and their needs, especially for health care, will ripple through the economy. Love them (and their critics suggest the boomers are in love with themselves) or hate them (for their perceived unwillingness to exit center stage quietly), right now they still rule the roost.
The Mature Market Institute, an arm of the MetLife insurance company, surveyed more than 1,000 each of the oldest and youngest boomers. The results reveal notably different views of the world.
Old, to what the institute calls “leading edge” boomers, “is 78-years-old, compared with 71-years-old for the “trailing edge” boomers. It all depends on how many candles there are on your birthday cake.
Take that term “baby boomer.” An easy majority of the oldest wear it proudly, the survey says, while nearly half of the youngest are less fond of the moniker, about one-third choosing to think of themselves as “Gen X,” referring to the generation born after 1965.
All boomers were not created equally.
“The Oldest Boomers, who were often associated with a rebellious and influential youth culture, are now facing the contrast of growing up in the sixties, and now living through their sixties. . . Now they have reached a new stage of life where their primary careers are winding down, and they are figuring out what they will do when they retire and how to pay for it.,” a recent report from the institute says.
Meanwhile, “The Youngest Boomers, on the other hand, are now middle-age, are at their peak earning years, and have younger children still at home. . . Instead of living in families where their mothers stayed at home to raise the family, they were more likely to be latchkey children,” as women entered the workforce in greater numbers. “Now, as they look to the future, they understand that they very likely will not have a [work-related pension plan] and will need to take more responsibility for their own financial future.”
That’s a heavier load for the younger brothers and sisters.
The oldest boomers are eying the years ahead, as they gray (or hide the gray) and can see retirement (even through the fog of this economy) somewhere out there. They worry about affording health care and remaining productive as they age.
The youngest boomers worry about outliving their retirement savings and having to work longer than they’d like.
On that issue, the oldest boomers see retirement as something at age 66 while the youngest eye age 64. At present, according to the survey, half of the oldest are working full-time while shy of one-in-five has retired. The current economy’s impact on their finances is a major factor in continuing to work, followed by the need to save more for retirement and, for some, simply enjoying work.
Frankly, they’re just not ready.
Asked about their progress in planning for retirement, 15 percent of the oldest boomers said they had no goals, 2 percent had not started, 15 percent admitted being significantly behind where they should be, 29 percent judged themselves to be somewhat behind, 25 percent felt themselves on-track and 13 percent already had retired.
Older and young boomers hold similar attitudes on providing for their family’s needs, maintaining their health, meeting personal needs and contributing to their communities.
But they diverge when asked about whether they are ensuring a steady stream of retirement income, whether they’re providing for their parents needs, whether they’re saving enough for the future and whether they’re planning on living retirement to the fullest; in each case these being greater concerns for older boomers.
As for their health, two-thirds of the youngest boomers think themselves in excellent or very good health, while only half of the oldest could make that statement.
There is one thing on which the oldest (now 63) and youngest (now 45) baby boomers agree: they don’t like getting older.
But in the back of my mind, I hear Jimmy Duarante singing:
Don't you know that it's worth
Every treasure on earth
To be young at heart?
For, as rich as you are,
It's much better by far
To be young at heart
And, if you should survive
To a hundred and five,
Look at all you'll derive
Just by being alive!
Now, here is the best part:
You have a head start
If you are amongst the very young...
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