Not Acting Their Age
Madonna Bron, 52, who has clocked more than 50 marathons since a heart attack at 37, is often up before dawn for a daily run. Ron Cohen, 55, left the corporate rat race eight years ago, "downsized" from an executive job in Boston, for the laid-back air of western North Carolina--now he manages 15 people and runs an 11-vehicle transportation service. And Carol Kraker, 51, rises early most mornings for a swim before starting her 10-to-12-hour day selling upscale retirement homes outside Phoenix.
You call this retirement? Forget quiet lolls in a porch rocking chair, with morning golf followed by afternoon naps and "early bird" suppers. The first of the 78-million-strong baby boom generation turn 55 this year. And just as they changed life as we know it in recent decades--from music to marriage to mutual funds--this healthy, wealthy, and wise band of "zoomers" is charging toward retirement at its own breakneck speed.
Much as they transformed the suburbs, bringing forth the "soccer mom" phenomenon, demographers anticipate the boomer generation will rewrite what it means to be a senior citizen. They'll take tai chi classes in their 90s, start second careers at 60, and begin romances at ages that will bring frowns to the foreheads of their grandkids.
Healthy and wealthy. They will be a force to reckon with. Boomers make up almost a third of the U.S. population, and they are aging fast. Beginning in 2000, boomers started turning 50 at the rate of just under 10,000 a day. Already, more than 14 million boomers are 50 and up, and some aren't waiting until 55 to take early retirement. It's a well-educated crowd: Nearly 90 percent of boomers graduated from high school, and more than a quarter have at least a bachelor's degree. More than three quarters own homes, and 73 percent have some form of investments. And the eldest among them have money: A recent AARP report on the 50-plus generation shows those in the top quartile had a median income of $100,000 and a median net worth of $360,000.
But the bounty is not evenly distributed. Those in the bottom fourth had a median income of just $10,000 and were disproportionately female. "The top quarter are way ahead of where their parents were" heading into retirement, says AARP's director of legislation and public policy, John Rother. "The middle half is somewhat better off. The bottom quarter is in trouble; their wages have not kept up with the economy." The stock market slump hasn't helped, nor the double-digit annual increases in healthcare costs. For the first time in many years, this year's Retirement Confidence Survey found a drop in the percentage of workers saving for retirement (from 75 percent in 2000 to 71 percent this year) and a dip in confidence about meeting retirement income goals.
The income disparity highlights a signal fact about the boomers--their diversity. Despite attempts by marketers and the media to brand them as one, perhaps the most common trait of the generation born between 1946 and 1964 is its individuality. "The boomers have been a very distinct generation all the way," says Milken Institute demographer William Frey. "They have broken the mold in every conceivable way. I can't imagine them really changing as they age."