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May 4th, 2009
09:12 AM ET

Just who are you calling old?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/17/art.market.anon.jpg]

Dave Schechter
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...
At heart

soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. J. Neff

    and oh...I was falling in line for the check out counter in a grocer and was following a lady I thought was old (and she was). Noticed her stretching her neck up to find a shorter line and so I excused myself and showed her the direction of the "senior citizen" CO counter...she looked back at me maaaaaad!!! I stepped back and apologized as I understood what she meant by that. Maybe she just looked older than her age...anyways, I guess I should be more careful with whom I extend a little help to rather than who will I call old, Lol!

    May 4, 2009 at 4:17 pm |
  2. J. Neff

    1968 here...almost there but I truly like the "real learning" involved in the process of aging...and who wants to live forever? Not me! Life can be hard at times...that is when you learn to care more about others than yourself, how much you have and how you look =P

    May 4, 2009 at 4:06 pm |
  3. Linda

    To me, age is just a number.

    May 4, 2009 at 2:49 pm |
  4. meenas17

    Age gracefuuly is a paradigm. Greying is a sign of wisdom.Staggering denotes experience. Losing teeth signifies old age. These are all positives of getting old. When all physical attributes point towards aging, the heart and mood keeps you young.It is the abstract which overwhelms the real.,

    May 4, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  5. Heidi Berg

    good poem

    May 4, 2009 at 12:05 pm |
  6. DrFrann in CA

    And though the body changes,
    behind the eyes the same spirit still stands tall.
    Less willing to be reckless, more willing be to brave.
    Less willing to be faithless, more willing to be true.
    Less willing to be wasteful, more willing to give thought.

    And walking past a window,
    I catch my own reflection and ask,
    who is that girl?
    She doesn't look like Me,
    but feels the same within.

    I take a breath and continue,
    skipping down the street.

    May 4, 2009 at 12:05 pm |
  7. meenas17

    Getting old is a natural phenomenon. We have to accept it with pride. Greying, staggering, losing teeth, are part of geting old. As you age , you gain wisdom. My advice is we have to age gracefully and lend a helping hand to the young, if required.

    May 4, 2009 at 12:03 pm |
  8. monica levy

    great story. i think the biggest difference between boomers & previous generations is that boomers are unwilling to cede youth to their children. reminds me of a great comment i heard @ a music industry conference: "the reason rap music was invented is because nobody wants to fight their parents for tickets to aerosmith." women 55+ is currently the fastest-growing category on facebook. sony, in a great commercial a couple of years ago, showing a graying, but very fit guy, dressed up in an astronaut suit holding a video camera. the tagline of the spot: "when the kids ask where the money went, show them the tape." this is a cultural phenomenon that will, i believe, change everything about how products and services are developed and marketed toward both older and younger generations.

    May 4, 2009 at 12:03 pm |
  9. Tina Poling

    Remember that yester-years 60 is todays 50, so we are 10 years younger than our age and that should allow us a little more working time if you are still "young at heart". While it would be nice to retire young, not all of us can. So just keep thinking young, and you'll make it baby!

    May 4, 2009 at 11:47 am |
  10. earle,florida

    priorities are flexible; good health is paramount,without it nothing is achievable; financial security is fine as long as it doesn't become your master; communicating acts of selflessness with charitable gifts of kindness,and labor; accepting age as progressive youth,not to be wasted as mindless pity; sharing your gifts of years gone, with your peers to thoughtfully enhance future guidance with unbiased insight; lastly; boomers have sage advise, remembering to round out those corners when the once young thought outside the box,it will help you to circumvent the hyperbole that follows,keeping you well grounded,and focused through lifes wonderful journey; always,always take time to smell the roses;... Money in America today equates to wealth,with no other priorities! Money is not flexible,but rigid,and rather corruptable,visibly destroying our country with the greed it manifest! Thanks

    May 4, 2009 at 11:44 am |
  11. azra daie

    I am inclided in babyboomer group, this year ecomoni scared me so much, how i will handle myself post retiere, i was always happy i can be retiered at age 62per my job, but now i don't even think about it, i gusse i have to work until the day i die.

    May 4, 2009 at 11:42 am |
  12. enea ostrich: Seal Beach, CA

    getting old is over rated. I am the young boomer (45), and don't find that "getting old" is depressing at all.

    With each year there is an added intelligence that you cannot get when you are 22. I like the confidence of knowing that everything will be okay, even when it's not. You can't get that when you are 22, because that's the age of uncertainty.

    I love the Jimmy Durante song, because it allows me to reflect back to my youth and smile at all the good memories. That's another thing you can't have when you are 22. Ahh...fond memories are built through many years. You can't get that when you are 22 either:)

    May 4, 2009 at 11:37 am |
  13. BlaqRubi

    OMG! I am a baby boomer!! Will be 51 this year, just finding my sea legs....

    May 4, 2009 at 11:37 am |
  14. Lydia

    Loved this piece about who you call old. I'm an original Baby Boomer and proud of it 'cause we have had a big part in shaping the culture & politics of our time. I especially liked the contrast of growing up in the 60's & now living through my 60's. I personally do very little because I can't afford it. But, I do my best to keep on staying "young at heart".

    May 4, 2009 at 11:31 am |
  15. MarieAnne Sam - Alabang in the Philippines

    Gosh! It hit bull's eye! I do belong to this group – the young baby boomers! -

    And I for one don't want to be called 'old' - and as they say, age is but a number! - its how you see/view things that counts! 🙂

    I may have those 'predicament' stated above - still working ('til now!) and experiencing pay cuts and compressed work week due to the recession! Yet, I won't trade it with any other!

    May 4, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  16. Elaine

    Had there been a Suze Orman type when I was in high school, preaching and teaching money facts, things for my generation might have been different. No one ever talked about money, not even at home let alone in public. Retirement was assumed as a right but no one taught us how to get there. The next twenty years are going to be very senior focused in this country.

    May 4, 2009 at 11:22 am |
  17. David Lynch

    Durante? What are on?

    May 4, 2009 at 11:10 am |
  18. Michele S.

    Always will be young a heart. And, some plan better than others!

    May 4, 2009 at 10:59 am |
  19. trish

    ~end of 1964...hey i feel left out!! i am between baby boomer & gen X.

    May 4, 2009 at 10:52 am |
  20. Teresa, OH

    I want to add one more thing: when I was in my twenties and thirties, the 40, 50 and 60 yr. olds LOOKED THEIR AGE. No offense, but so many were balding, broke down and defeated looking, sad too.... seemed to have no joy.

    These baby boomers of today for the most part look incredible. I can never guess anyones age after 40. Better food? Better medicine?

    I think it's just a better attitude. Embrace your age but take care of your temple too.

    May 4, 2009 at 10:43 am |
  21. Annie Kate

    My age boomers are smack in the middle between the oldest boomers and the youngest – I have raised 5 children and so far have 3 of them through college with one left to go; I had to help my mother when Dad got Alzheimer's and now I help her. So, suffice it to say the retirement fund isn't what I would like it to be. Add the icing on the cake of a lot of computer jobs being off shored and young people being hired in because they work cheaper and I bet you can start to fee my stress. I feel like I have paid my dues many times over but evidently life doesn't see it that way – I just wish the younger employees were not so hateful with their remarks – I remember wanting the promotions and the higher salaries but I had to put in my time and prove myself; it doesn't come overnight or just because the boomers get out of the way. Frankly I wish I could get out of the way and retire – I can't think of anything I would rather do but right now its just not in the cards.

    May 4, 2009 at 10:42 am |
  22. Teresa, OH

    If I am at my peak income earning potential, I am up the proverbial creek without a paddle...

    May 4, 2009 at 10:38 am |
  23. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    Maybe it is not about "getting older,"--but rather "getting better."

    May 4, 2009 at 10:21 am |