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By S. Michael Craven
Perhaps one of the most persistent and pervasive myths that have shaped the thinking of many people and, subsequently, public policy is the myth that the world’s population is spiraling out of control and that it will ultimately lead to catastrophic shortages of the essential resources necessary to sustain life.
This whole concept of “overpopulation” can be traced to Thomas Malthus, the British scholar and Anglican clergyman (albeit a very misguided one) who, without any specific knowledge other than his own speculations, predicted in 1789 that the planet’s rapid increase in population would soon outstrip the planet’s ability to produce food, resulting in massive worldwide starvation. Malthus’s predicted famine never materialized, of course; he could not have predicted the industrial revolution or the enormous impact subsequent technological innovations would have on our ability to produce food. Recall that today our federal government actually pays farmers not to grow crops due to the abundance of food produced on considerably less farmland than existed just a century ago.
Even the United Nations, historically a rabid advocate of population control, has conceded that the world’s current infrastructure is capable of supporting a worldwide population of more than 9 billion people. Furthermore, according to the most recent estimates, the planet’s population will most likely continue to climb from its current level until 2050, when it will peak at 9 billion; other predictions have the world’s population peaking at 7.5 billion in 2040. In either case, global population levels will begin a sharp decline sometime during the middle of the twenty-first century. Present fertility rates actually indicate a massive underpopulation crisis is coming, particularly among Western nations.
The question of overpopulation is not merely a topic for conversation; it is a burning matter of policy and action at the local, national, and international levels. Our national government is actually committed by law and by international agreement to reducing the worldwide rate of population growth.
Government officials, such as former Assistant Secretary of State for Global Affairs in the Clinton administration, Timothy Wirth, insist that this effort must also apply to the population of the United States. Wirth, as you may recall, was at the center of controversy when the Clinton administration decided to deport 13 Chinese women who sought asylum in the United States to avoid forced abortion under communist China’s notorious one-child policy. By offering asylum to these women, Wirth explained, “we could potentially open ourselves up to just about everybody in the world saying ‘I don’t want to plan my family, therefore I deserve political asylum.’” Apparently, Wirth believes government-forced abortions and sterilization constitutes “family planning.”
Today, there are governments that compel their citizens to undergo sterilization and abortions, often with financial help from the United Nations and U.S. government-supported private agencies such as Planned Parenthood.
Motivated in part by the overpopulation myth coupled with Darwinism, Margaret Sanger, who in 1934 was the founder of the American Birth Control League (which later became Planned Parenthood), advocated contraception and abortion as means of “negative eugenics” in order to limit the population of what she termed “the lower races.” (Positive eugenics was the form employed by the Nazis in their attempt to eradicate the Jewish people.)
For this reason Sanger opposed helping the poor. Humanitarianism and philanthropy, she wrote merely “perpetuate constantly increasing numbers of defectives, delinquents, and dependents.… These dangers are inherent in the very idea of humanitarianism and altruism, dangers which have today produced their full harvest of human waste.” This same sentiment was common to Darwin and his early advocates, who saw Christian compassion as counterproductive to “natural selection” and human evolution. Recall the original full title of Darwin’s now-famous work, On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.
Frankly, if one wants to be consistent with evolutionary theory, one is compelled to think this same way and not borrow from Christian morality and ethics, as these have no logical place in the naturalistic worldview. Darwin very clearly understood this fact.
Ironically it was Thomas Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population that had a profound impact on Charles Darwin and proved instrumental in the development of his theory of evolution. Darwin attests to this in his autobiography:
In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic inquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The results of this would be the formation of a new species. Here, then I had at last got a theory by which to work.
The myth of overpopulation first put forth by Malthus, coupled with Darwinian theories that promote propagation of the “fit” and reduction of the “unfit,” has been instrumental in legitimizing abortion, forced sterilization, government subsidized contraception, and, in the most extreme cases, eugenics as practiced by the Nazis and others. (The term eugenics-meaning “good births”-was coined by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. Eugenics, he believed, would encourage more children from the fit, and fewer or no children from the unfit, with the ultimate goal of engineering the evolutionary ascent of man.)
In every case these false notions undermine God’s commandment to “multiply” and further serve to undermine the intrinsic value of every human as being made in the image of God.
The world’s population is projected to pass seven billion on October 31 as it heads toward 10 billion or more by the end of the century, a new UN report said on Tuesday.
The report also predicted that the global population would be higher by mid-century than its last edition forecast two years ago, reaching 9.31 billion instead of 9.15 billion. It attributed this to fewer deaths as well as more births than it had anticipated.
The October date for reaching the seven billion mark is based on calculations from current trends and Hania Zlotnik, head of the UN economic department’s population division, said it should be taken “with a grain of salt.”
Nevertheless, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) announced it would start a seven-day countdown on October 24 that would include a series of events. The world reached six billion people in 1998 and was 6.89 on July 1.
The report, “2010 Revision of World Population Prospects,” projected there would be 10.1 billion people on the planet by 2100, the first time it has looked that far ahead. But it said that if global fertility was just half a child more per woman than it expected, that figure could be almost 16 billion.
UN officials said their figures were based on the assumption that fertility would taper off during the century.
But Zlotnik told a news conference, “Stabilization of the population doesn’t seem to us as very probable at this moment.”
Nations face a delicate balance between high fertility and booming populations, which strain food and other resources, and low fertility, which leads to aging populations and stress on social services, as some European states are already finding.
“All countries are going to age if their populations are not to explode even more than they are exploding now,” Zlotnik said.
Another UN official, Gerhard Heilig, told the news conference that China’s population, currently about 1.34 billion, would drop back below 1 billion by 2100. Russia’s population would fall from 143 million now to 126 million by 2050 and 111 million in 2100, he said.
But UNFPA chief Babatunde Osotimehin said the latest global figures “underscore the urgent need to provide safe and effective family planning to the 215 million women who lack it,” a point echoed by pro-birth control advocacy groups.
Suzanne Ehlers, president of Washington-based Population Action International, called the new projections “a wake-up call for governments to fulfill the global demand for contraception.”
For decades, population growth was said to spell doom for humanity. But the so-called population bomb went off and we’re still standing. What happened?
In an era of high anxiety, few issues rattled people in the 1960s and 1970s more than the Earth’s seemingly runaway population growth. The sense of imminent overcrowding doom was chillingly articulated by Paul Ehrlich, the Stanford University biologist whose 1968 book, The Population Bomb, became an unlikely bestseller, propelled in part by the academic’s numerous appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. The swelling ranks of humankind would lead to “hundreds of millions” dying of starvation by the 1970s, a substantial increase in the global death rate and assorted ecological disasters, he predicted. Involuntary sterilization might be needed to lessen the coming cataclysm.
“We can no longer afford merely to treat the symptoms of the cancer of population growth; the cancer itself must be cut out,” he wrote. Four decades later, the Earth’s population has doubled and the United Nations predicts a newborn’s arrival some time this fall will push the total to seven billion souls.
By 2050, another two billion humans are likely to be jostling for elbow room. Yet the doomsaying predictions of Prof. Ehrlich and others have in most cases failed to materialize. The world still has more than its share of misery: Almost one billion people go hungry every day and 1.4 billion live in extreme poverty. But as the population expanded at a pace never seen before, the overall death rate dropped rapidly, life expectancy climbed and the number in poverty — though still huge — shrank.
Tens of millions moved into the middle class in China, southeast Asia and India.
“Every indicator of human well-being that you can measure … there’s no question it’s better today, no matter how many people we have,” said Hania Zlotnik, head of the UN’s population division.
“On the whole, society has been extremely successful, both in reducing population growth from its peak and making life better for most people.”
Since The Population Bomb exploded in the late 1960s, the Green Revolution has made agriculture exponentially more productive, feeding billions more, while economies that were near collapse are now thriving. Meanwhile, many demographers predict the population size will not keep spiralling out into “oblivion,” as Prof. Ehrlich suggested, but level off by the end of this century.
“In the end, it’s always the same story,” said Pierre Desrochers, a geography professor at the University of Toronto. “People forget that human beings are not just mouths that eat, but brains to work out new solutions.”
Still, experts warn there is no reason to be complacent — the number of humans keeps expanding and those average improvements in well-being obscure pockets of calamity. Many parts of the world — sub-Saharan Africa most prominent among them — still have high fertility rates and widespread, grinding poverty.
“The problems are here and now,” said Joel Cohen, head of the laboratory of populations at New York’s Rockefeller University. “People forget there are a billion chronically hungry people; every day those people wake up and they’re hungry all day, and they go to sleep hungry.”
And if their moribund economies do take off — as everyone hopes — they could add to climate change and other worrying environmental problems, originally the product of the developed world.
As it turns out, population expansion is not just a simple question of reproduction run amok, but a subtle interplay between death rates, birth rates and economics.
For much of human history, population levels changed little, says Frank Trovato, a sociology professor and population expert at the University of Alberta. While women had many babies, their fecundity barely kept pace with mortality rates fuelled by disease, hunger and war.
By the mid 18th-century, though, cities and towns in Europe, at least, were becoming increasingly crowded and dirty, health improved, food became more abundant and the population started to increase. Later improvements in public health — like sewers that separated disease-ridden human waste from drinking water — kept people alive even longer, while the Industrial Revolution raised general well-being.
History indicates that as life expectancy increases and more children survive into adulthood, birth rates decline.
There is always a gap, though — called a demographic transition — before fertility slows enough to tally with the rising longevity. When it does, couples have enough children at most to replace themselves. During the transition period, however, the numbers rocket up.
By the 1960s, fertility rates had dropped to near-replacement levels in the industrialized world, but remained higher elsewhere. World population, only one billion in 1800, climbed to two billion by 1927, three billion by 1959, four billion by 1974 and six billion by 1998, according to UN figures.
The number is projected to tick over to seven billion some time around Oct. 31, with the milestone baby more likely to be born in India than in any other country.
Fears about population growth date back centuries, suggesting an almost innate human anxiety about the effects of too many human beings.
Prof. Desrochers points to the early Christian theologian Tertullian, who argued 1,800 years ago the world’s “teeming population” was overly burdensome, and pestilence, conflict and other deadly events were a useful “remedy” to prune the overgrowth.
Much later, at the end of the 18th century, Thomas Malthus, an English clergyman and scholar, theorized population expansion would inevitably outpace society’s ability to feed itself, meaning famine and disease would sooner or later bring the boom to a halt.
Neo-Malthusians expanded on and popularized his ideas in the mid-1900s. The notion picked up steam in the popular media, with Time magazine featuring the “Population Explosion” on a cover in 1960. Even pop culture joined in. The movie Soylent Green imagined a dystopic, over-populated future where authorities feed the masses a mysterious substance that turns out to be made from other people, sacrificed for the common good when they get old.
Prof. Ehrlich’s book, commissioned by the Sierra Club, likely had the biggest impact on public consciousness, with its predictions of mass starvation and resource depletion. On the face of it, he at least overstated his case.
With twice as many people on Earth, global average death rates have dropped to eight per 1,000 per year, from 13 in 1970. Life expectancy has soared from 56 years to 67. The number living in extreme poverty slid to 1.4 billion in 2005 from 1.8 billion in 1990. And the percentage of people who are malnourished has halved, though the total number has climbed — from 815 to 925 million — over the same period.
Even as Prof. Ehrlich predicted Mexico would be unable to feed itself, new, Green Revolution strains of wheat were turning it from a net importer to a net exporter of the grain. Those farming innovations later helped transform crop yields in Asia.
“Science has progressed in many ways in parallel with population growth,” said Prof. Trovato.
Economic reversals have meanwhile raised living standards in much of east Asia, parts of India and Latin America.
Fertility rates are also dropping to below the replacement level of two children in much of the industrialized world and in emerging economies such as Brazil and China. Other regions are hovering just above that level, while a third group, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, still has birth rates as high as four or five.
If fertility remained at those levels, the population explosion would go ballistic, pushing the numbers to 15 billion by 2100, says the UN’s population division. Conversely, if dramatic advances were made in lowering birth rates now, the numbers of humans could actually start to decline by the late 2000s.
The agency is placing its bets on a middle projection, where fertility is curbed slowly, resulting in nine billion by 2050 and more than 10 billion by the end of the 2000s, before levelling off.
In some ways, Prof. Ehrlich and other neo-Malthusians may have got it right. The limits on fertility and increases in food production they urgently recommended have been key to helping the world cope with, and even thrive, amid the population explosion.
With one billion people undernourished already, however, and another two billion coming soon — mostly in the countries least equipped to absorb them — the challenges remain immense.
Feeding them all will likely require another Green Revolution, as the novel crop varieties that boosted yields in Latin America and Asia do not work in sub-Saharan Africa, where irrigation is scarce and food production a fraction of that on farms elsewhere.
A 2008 report by the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization says feeding nine billion people by 2050 can be done, but would require annual private and public investments of US$83-billion on developing-world agriculture.
Even now, enough grain is produced globally to feed 11 billion mouths, said Prof. Cohen. The problem is a third is eaten by cows, pigs and other livestock — helping sate the rich world’s craving for meat— and a sixth is used for fuel, other industrial applications and seed.
He advocates an end to U.S. farm subsidies that divert much of the country’s corn crop to ethanol production. “The world chooses to feed its machines and its domestic animals before it feeds its people,” he laments.
The famine now ravaging Somalia raises another key issue. Hunger often has more to do with political and climatic factors than the sheer number of people, and solving problems like deep-rooted corruption might be a precursor to more tangible agricultural advance.
“Consider the Horn of Africa. Is this sustainable?” said Don Kerr, a social demographer at King’s College, University of Western Ontario. “It continues to experience famine due to a drought and political and economic mismanagement.”
At the same time, more efforts are needed to lower the birth rate in high-fertility regions to avoid worst-case population scenarios, and potentially to slow growth even more than expected, said Ms. Zlotnik.
The UN population czar rejects the conventional economic wisdom that fertility starts falling only as affluence in a country rises, saying there are many examples where birth rates have shrunk independent of an economic boom. Bangladesh, for instance, is moving fast toward replacement-level fertility because of robust programs that encourage child and maternal health and family planning.
Yet surveys of women in the developing world suggest 215 million would like access to birth control but cannot get it.
There are some activists who still voice existential fears for the future. Lester Brown, founder of the environmental group Worldwatch Institute, says population growth, coupled with climate change, threatens to bring an end to global civilization unless corrective measures are urgently taken.
In 2009, Prof. Ehrlich conceded he may have overblown the hunger problem, not foreseeing the impact of the Green Revolution. But he argued he was overoptimistic in other areas, failing to predict climate change, widespread deforestation and damage to the Earth’s ozone layer, and believes population-related problems have only got worse.
Still, a deep-seated fear of the bomb seems to have dissipated. It has been replaced with a sense solutions are at hand, but action is overdue to rectify the problems of the current seven billion — and those to come.
“When one looks at the broad picture of human history… it’s been a history of population meeting challenges that come up,” said Prof. Trovato.
“I think we will continue in this way … but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all parts of the world will be equal in meeting the challenges.”
Prophets of doom & gloom
Confucius (551- c. 479 BC)
A disciple asked, “Once there are so many people, what should be done?” “Enrich them,” said the Master. “Once they are enriched, what next?” “Educate them.”
Plato (429-347 BC)
“Fear of poverty and war will make them keep their family within their means.”
Artistotle (384-322 BC)
“A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one.”
Tertullian (c. 160- c. 220)
“Pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race.”
Richard Hakluyt (1527-1616)
“[T]hrough long peace and seldome sickness … we are growen more populous than ever heretofore; … many thousandes of idle persons are within this realme, which, havinge no way to be sett on worke, be either mutinous and seeks alteration in the state, or at leaste very burdensome to the commonwealthe.”
Thomas Malthus (1766-1834)
“[There is a] constant effort towards an increase in population [which tends to] subject the lower classes of society to distress and to prevent any great permanent amelioration of their condition.”
“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make … The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next 10 years.”
Donella and Dennis Meadows
The Earth is finite. Growth of anything physical, including the human population and its cars and buildings and smokestacks, cannot continue forever.”
When it comes to life expectancy in America, there’s good news and bad news. The good news: Americans are living longer and enjoying more years in retirement. The bad news: we can’t pay for it.
That’s because Americans are collecting Social Security benefits longer than the system was designed to provide.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in 1935, it was a lifeline to poor seniors and an easy promise to keep – the retirement age was 65 while life expectancy was 63, noted Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a member of President Obama’s fiscal commission.
“The numbers added up pretty well back then,” he said with a chuckle. “It was never designed to be a program that would last 25 or 30 years and so that’s one of the reasons why there is so much fiscal pressure on it.”
Andrew Biggs, a former Social Security official, said these days a “typical person could spend almost a third of their adult life in retirement supported by Social Security. That’s a real burden on the system — that’s a real burden on the taxpayer.”
He pointed to the 1950s as an example.
“The typical person claimed Social Security around age 68 and they could live to around age 76,” Biggs said. “So that’s around eight years of benefits they would collect. Today, the typical person claims Social Security at 62 but lives into their early or mid-80s.”
In fact, since Social Security
first started paying benefits in 1940, the average life expectancy for men — once they reach age 65 — has increased by more than five years to age 83, while women also live five years longer in retirement to age 85.
But an even bigger problem is on the horizon – the retirement of the baby boomers.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the number of people 65 or older will increase by 90% in the next 25 years — up to 92 million instead of the 53 million now getting checks.
And the number of people paying taxes for all those retirees will grow just 12%, so the burden on them will increase.
“The real people who have a stake in this are not the elderly, it’s the kids,” said Doug Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. “By fixing this problem, they can look forward to having some Social Security benefits, and they can look forward to having an economy that has not been run to the ground by an enormous deficit.”
SHANGHAI — Every weekend in Shanghai’s ‘People’s Park Number Five,’ they come — mothers, fathers, grandparents — all holding pictures and posters of young Chinese men and women who are looking for love.
Parental matchmaking isn’t easy, according to one man who tells FOX News that he’s been shopping for a wife for his 33-year-old son for six months.
His pitch to other parents is short and simple. “Got a home. Good looking. Good salary,” reads his poster.
Because of China’s one child policy to control its ever expanding population — now numbering 1.3 billion people — there has been a lopsided explosion of young boys. It’s a cavernous gender gap that is unprecedented worldwide.
The ratio is up to 130 boys to every one hundred girls in some areas of China.
Traditional preferences for a son means that many women abort their baby if an early term sonogram shows it’s a girl.
In the next 20 years, it’s estimated that 30 million Chinese men won’t be able to find wives. For mothers and fathers who visit the “People’s Park” every weekend there’s a lot more to it than just finding love for their kids. There’s a tradition in China of the young looking after the old. The government hasn’t paid pensions and provided health care for most Chinese. So many parents’ social security is on the line.
In China’s big cities, finding Mr. or Miss Right is easier. Many women migrate from small town China to Beijing or Shanghai to find work and marriage.
And because more and more women are working, attitudes among parents who once only wanted boys are changing.
“More than 50 percent of the population will be in the cities. So that means this will be very strong change of traditions, behaviour of couples, or women, including this kind of son preference,” Bernard Coquelin, from the U.N. Population Fund told FOX News.
The pressure is on for moms and dads in peoples park number 5, and across the country. The Chinese lonely hearts club is the biggest world wide.
Those who love Florida can take heart — a piece of the state soon will be coming to you.
In the next 25 years, the baby boomers will retire and the rest of the country will mirror Florida, where 20% of the population is 65 or older.
The first of 78.2 million boomers — defined as those born from 1946 to 1964 — turn 60 next year. They’ll become eligible for Medicare and full retirement under Social Security five years later. Some will begin to take early retirement under Social Security in just two years.
They fundamentally will alter the marketplace. Consultants specialize in advising companies how to market to the boomers and their $2 trillion in spending power. First Bob Dylan, 64, pitched Victoria’s Secret lingerie; now Paul McCartney, 63, sells Lexus luxury cars.
Long-term health care facilities expect a surge in demand, and morticians say their field will face a shortage as boomers die.
On the whole, boomers will be better off than any other retired generation in history. They are far better-educated, more technology-savvy and living healthier into their later years. They will have higher retirement incomes and a lower poverty rate.
Call it — or them — the new gray.
Their younger and older countrymen can only hope to fare as well, as politicians and interest groups grapple with fundamental questions about policy promises and how to pay the bills.
“We have a tremendous demographic tsunami descending on us, and we have to start preparing now,” says Paul Hodge, director of the Global Generations Policy Initiative at Harvard University. “American government, American society will be forced to make hard decisions. I think it will start in five years. There are going to have to be trade-offs.”
In other words, there are going to be some ch-ch-changes, in the generational catchphrase coined in 1971 by rocker David Bowie, who turns 59 on Jan. 8.
In this series, The Washington Times examines how the aging of America’s largest generation will rock the social-service and health-care systems created by their parents and grandparents’ generations — and how the boomers are living out their own vision of getting older.
The basic programs that support the elderly — Social Security, Medicare and, for poor seniors, Medicaid — all require today’s workers to pay for today’s beneficiaries. But health care costs are rising even as the average number of workers supporting each retiree falls.
The numbers define the challenge:
• The beneficiaries — the population 65 and older — will grow by 27 million people in the next two decades, while the workers — those 16 to 64 — will grow by a relatively low 18 million.
• Since 1935, the age for receiving full Social Security has moved from 65 to 67, even as life expectancy has increased from 63 to nearly 80.
• By 2050, 5% of the population will be 85 years or older — three times today’s rate.
“On the path that we’re headed on today, either there have to be dramatic changes in entitlement programs and other federal spending, or dramatic tax increases to close the fiscal gap,” says David Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office, the federal government’s chief watchdog agency.
The baby boom itself is a strange occurrence. A centuries-long decline in fertility rates was reversed for a two-decade period — in the United States as well as in some other industrialized countries.
The return of U.S. troops from World War II does not explain why the boom lasted for 20 years and why births per woman actually increased. Also, many of the women who gave birth during the peak of the baby boom were too young to have been just catching up for the war years.
Economist Jeremy Greenwood and colleagues write in a recent paper in the American Economic Review that the boom resulted from “an atypical burst of technological progress in the household sector” — in other words, washing machines and refrigerators that made it cheaper to have more children.
Whatever the reason, the boom marks a fundamental shift.
“This is not an issue where ... you go along, the baby boomers show up and then they go away. It’s — you go along, the baby boomers show up, and we’re older forever,” says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office. “We are moving towards a permanent shift in the population, where there are more old folks relative to young folks.”
That shift, Mr. Holtz-Eakin says, will require permanent changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. If left on autopilot, these programs literally will eclipse the federal budget as more baby boomers retire.
It’s simply a matter of math.
Currently, the federal government spends about 20% of the gross domestic product on all its services and runs a deficit because it collects about 18% of the GDP in taxes. Social Security accounts for about 4% of GDP, and Medicare and Medicaid together account for another 4%.
But in the next 45 years, Social Security costs are expected to reach 6.3% of GDP and with Medicare and Medicaid, costs could grow to an astronomical 18% of GDP — or nearly what the entire federal government consumes now.
One strategy is to reform programs one at a time, starting with Social Security. But another strategy calls for examining the issue of aging across all government programs to decide what is needed for an older population, what the government appropriately can and should provide and then how best to provide that.
Mr. Holtz-Eakin argues that leaders first must decide how much money they want to devote to older Americans in the future. Once the appropriate level is set, leaders must decide which programs to spend that money on.
Mr. Walker says that in all likelihood, that will mean future generations should expect to assume more responsibility for their retirement income and count on less help from the government.
The numbers suggest that health care is the biggest issue, particularly because costs continue to rise and because of Medicare, which promises excellent medical care to anyone 65 or older.
President Bush and Republicans compounded the issue two years ago by passing a new prescription-drug entitlement program as part of Medicare.
Another issue will be political power. Older people are more likely to vote, and that means the boomers will be a potent political force. They could choose to oppose programs for younger residents, or vote to approve more benefits for themselves.
That sort of change already has happened in places such as Youngstown, Ohio, Mr. Hodge says, where an aging population voted down school bonds.
Not everything about the new gray is gloomy news, though.
Brad Edmondson, former editor of American Demographics, argues in a recent issue of the Milken Institute Review that although Americans are living longer, they also are living healthier and having a shorter period of illness or “morbidity” before they die. He says that already might be having a positive effect on Medicare’s bottom line.
Policies should encourage healthier living now, he argues:
“How much of a factor the delay of morbidity turns out to be depends in a real sense on what we do now. The science is pretty clear that if you take good care of yourself, you’ll have a much shorter period of illness before you die.”
How big that effect will be is not clear, he concedes, as is the actual basis for many demographic projections. He points to Africa, where nobody 20 years ago could have foreseen the effects of AIDS on the population, and to the 1930s, when nobody could have predicted the effects of penicillin and other antibiotics.
Although the federal budget will be stretched, some states expect to do better when boomers retire.
A 2003 study by the Center for the Economics and Demography of Aging at the University of California at Berkeley concluded that with immigration from overseas, budget pressures actually will decrease — to the tune of a 10% reduction in state taxes by 2020.
But predictions say that only 17.8% of Californians will be older than 65 in 2030 — less than the national average of a little less than 20%.
Some policy-makers argue that immigration can mitigate the problem nationwide, but immigration levels are difficult to predict — and subject to political concerns.
“You’d have to increase immigration to probably politically unsustainable levels,” says Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition — two or three times today’s current level of more than a million legal and illegal immigrants a year.
And because those workers eventually will retire, he says, it doesn’t solve the situation — it just pushes the key dates back.
The basic options are: one, scale back the promises made; two, raise taxes to unprecedented levels — say, twice what they are now; or three, incur astronomical deficits.
Tax increases alone probably won’t work, especially if Medicare and Medicaid approach 20% of GDP.
“We’d have to double everything,” Mr. Holtz-Eakin says, citing the income tax, payroll tax and gas tax.
And deficits aren’t an answer, Mr. Bixby says, because that’s just putting the burden off a little while.
Mr. Walker predicts that the eligibility age for both Medicare and Social Security likely will be raised in coming years.
As the Urban Institute argues, people who work extra years can support themselves, contribute to the economy and pay taxes — all of which reduces the burden on younger workers.
But Barbara A. Butrica and her colleagues at the Urban Institute say the system of taxes and benefits discourages work at an older age. By 65, most workers can receive almost as much income in retirement as they would if they kept working.
Some countries have had success in encouraging work, particularly Japan, where the government has raised the official retirement age from 55 in the 1980s to 60, and it goes to 65 in 2013. More importantly, the average expected retirement age, or effective retirement age, is almost 70.
The trend, though, is heading in the other direction.
The effective retirement age is 64 in the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of major industrial nations. And many boomers are looking closely at an earlier retirement age of 62.
Another option is for American women to have more children — to create a second boom, in essence.
But that does not appear to be happening. At the peak of the baby boom, in the late 1950s, the fertility rate was more than 3.5 births per woman, according to the Census Bureau. By the mid-1970s, that had fallen to about 1.8 births per woman, then rebounded to average 2.0 or 2.1 births per woman in the past decade.
Which way out
Mr. Bixby throws cold water on another option — that of increasing economic growth, or the size of the economic pie, so that the government’s share can be less.
“There’s no way the economy can grow fast enough to satisfy these promises,” Mr. Bixby says, particularly because Social Security’s benefits are tied to wages, which rise faster than economic growth.
And increased productivity per worker already is factored into wages, so productivity gains won’t outstrip benefits costs.
The short answer, most agree, is that there’s no free lunch to be had.
“The challenge is absolutely enormous,” says Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican and chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “The numbers simply won’t add up for long.”
And, the senator adds, it “will take some real mature American leaders to help shine a light on how we get out of this mess.”
For now, “no one has an idea that will win majorities in Congress yet,” Mr. Smith says. “Eventually, this demographic tsunami will overwhelm us in a way that will force consensus.”
David Bugden says he cannot imagine when he would leave his Silver Spring dental practice, regardless of what age is defined as retirement.
“I’ll probably never retire,” he says. “I’ll probably just slow down a little bit.”
As his three children enter college, the 53-year-old dentist is looking toward phasing in more leisure activities after they leave home.
“I’m a competitive target shooter,” Dr. Bugden says. “By the time my kids are out of school, I would like to shoot professionally.”
Other times, he wants to take “weekend jaunts” on his motorcycle with his wife, Kimberly.
Baby boomers such as Dr. Bugden are redefining the senior years from an age of rocking chairs and family visits to merely a change in their career plans.
In this series, The Washington Times examines how the aging of America’s largest generation will rock the social-service and health care systems created by their parents’ and grandparents’ generations and how the boomers are living out their own vision of getting older.
With about 78 million of them born from 1946 to 1964 still living, boomers are creating the biggest shift toward retirement in America’s work force of any single generation.
“With boomers living longer and remaining engaged and employed beyond age 65, many of the traditional financial assumptions regarding retirement need to be re-examined,” says James P. Gorman, president of the Global Private Client Group for the financial firm Merrill Lynch.
Career counselors coined the term “protirement” in the 1990s to describe workers who plan to supplement their savings and Social Security benefits after retirement with second careers.
In addition to earning income, they want to use their experience to do the work they enjoy.
Some corporate executives might want to join the Peace Corps, bankers would build yachts, and mechanics would run greenhouses.
“They no longer have to worry about putting two or three children through college,” says Kelley Coates-Carter, AARP Maryland spokeswoman. “They can focus on something they always wanted to do. If they’re looking to transition into other careers, one of the first things we tell them is to think about their passion.”
One of them is Bill Donahue, owner of Annapolis Classic Watercraft, a five-employee company he started four years ago that restores antique boats.
“I’ve been restoring boats since I was a teenager,” says Mr. Donahue, 57. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Before he started Annapolis Classic Watercraft, Mr. Donahue was a Washington banker who supervised as many as 100 employees but never felt like he was doing what he did best.
“When my company was bought, that gave the money to do it,” he says about starting his boat restoration business. “I figured, it’s now or never.”
A Merrill Lynch New Retirement Survey released in February reported that 76% of baby boomers expect to continue working after they retire, often in a new job or career.
However, they also want the flexibility to work when it’s convenient, but rest or play when they prefer.
A similar AARP study found that just more than half already had changed careers at some time in their lives as they progressed from being hippies to yuppies to abbies, or aging baby boomers.
At the office
The boomers are creating challenges for employers that must adapt to older workers, who would have been a small segment of the workplace a few decades ago.
They are the best-educated generation in American history with the highest per-capita earnings. They also will be difficult for employers to replace.
“Employers are suddenly realizing they’re losing a bunch of their work force,” says Cathy Fyock, president of Innovative Management Concepts, a management consulting firm in Crestwood, Ky., that focuses on recruiting and retaining an aging work force.
Employers are offering fewer early retirements, more reduced work schedules and phased retirements in which the jobs of older workers are gradually delegated to younger workers, she says.
Power company Pepco Holdings Inc. says it recruits and offers generous benefits to older workers “so you’re not having that big investment disappear when a person walks out the door on their retirement day,” says Mary-Beth Hutchinson, Pepco spokeswoman. “This company in particular has a lot of technology involved.”
Even when workers can no longer tolerate the rigors of climbing power line poles in all kinds of weather, their experience can help the company in sedentary labor, she says.
“Knowing that job can be very useful in another context,” Miss Hutchinson says.
NASD, formerly the National Association of Securities Dealers, which the AARP lists this year as one of the best employers for workers older than 50, says the job advancement that it offers older workers helps attract and retain them.
“We look at them for what they can bring to the table for us, regardless of age,” says Michael Jones, senior executive vice president of the D.C. employer.
Baby boomers who have amassed their retirement nest eggs already are leaving their more traditional careers.
“The best and the brightest of the baby boomers will be the first to bail out,” says William Frey, a demographer for the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public-policy research foundation. “There’s going to be some real need among employers to fill that gap.”
High-level skills of the baby boomers also gave them more job security than the generations that will replace them, says Tim Kane, an economist for the Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit conservative public-policy foundation.
Many baby boomers could pin their hopes and careers on becoming an “organization man,” in which employer-provided pensions and health care would take care of them for life, he says.
A younger generation of workers that focuses less on education and technical skill is less likely to have that luxury, Mr. Kane says.
Unlike their parents, baby boomers are more likely to forgo retirement in Florida or Arizona to be near their children and at least part-time work opportunities.
Real estate developers such as Del Webb and Erickson Retirement Communities are opening age-restricted complexes for boomers who want the convenience of retirement without quitting their jobs.
Greenspring in Springfield, Va., is one of them. Others are Riderwood in Silver Spring and Saintsbury Plaza in Vienna, Va.
A survey this year by retirement community builder Del Webb found that most baby boomers want more than one bedroom in their retirement homes — often so they can continue working.
“Many use a third bedroom as a home office or den, in addition to having a second bedroom for guests,” says Mark Marymee, spokesman for Pulte Homes, parent company of Del Webb.
Amenity centers in the retirement communities are being redesigned with multipurpose rooms.
“Computers are definitely a new addition to our centers,” Mr. Marymee says.
In addition, more leisure activities and classes are scheduled after business hours.
Several surveys show that most boomers want the option to shift between work and leisure in retirement.
Colleges are preparing for a wave of baby boomers updating their job skills or seeking personal enrichment.
Nearly all of the universities and community colleges in the Washington area offer “lifelong learning” and continuing education courses.
At Northern Virginia Community College, the percentage of the student body that is older than 60 has increased from 1% in the 2000-01 school year to 1.6% in the 2004-05 school year.
The baby boomers are likely to add significantly to the senior citizen student population, according to college administrators.
“The continuing education directors are expecting this,” says Tricia Holser, Northern Virginia Community College spokeswoman.
Popular courses for the 50-plus generation at area colleges include art, history, music and computer skills.
“The most popular computer courses include word processing, Internet, e-mail and, lately, digital photography,” says Stephen D. Cain, dean of Montgomery College’s community education program. “Many students also enroll in computer keyboarding — something not taught when boomers were kids — and ‘mastering EBay.’ “
A common characteristic is, “They’re curious about things they haven’t had a chance to experience,” Mrs. Holser says.
The Merrill Lynch study found that boomer men are looking forward to working less, relaxing more and spending more time with their spouses as they become empty nesters or approach retirement. Boomer women are looking forward to new opportunities for career development, community involvement and continued personal growth.
In the bank
However, other boomers will not have the luxury of spending their golden years doing their labors of love. Low incomes or a lack of saving early in their careers has left them with few options as they get older.
“There are some baby boomers who will have to work forever because their employers don’t have good pensions,” says Mr. Frey, the Brookings Institution demographer. “There are a lot of jobs that are being phased out. They’re going to be struggling to find jobs.”
As a result, universities and technical colleges are preparing for older students trying to improve their job prospects with updated training.
“The leisure boomers are going to go back to take liberal arts courses,” Mr. Frey says. “There are others that need to stay in the work force who need to upgrade their skills.”
A successful retirement requires planning no later than the mid-40s, according to financial planners. It should include regular contributions to IRAs or 401(k) retirement plans.
Otherwise, the boomers face a massive downfall in their incomes and lifestyles.
A recent study by the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute reported that half of workers from all age groups have saved less than $25,000 for retirement.
Employees who invested in company-provided 401(k) retirement plans for at least six years averaged $91,042 in their accounts by the end of 2004. Workers in their 60s averaged $136,400 in their accounts.
The National Retirement Planning Coalition, a group of consumer advocacy and trade associations, sponsors campaigns to advise workers on how much money they should take out of their paychecks to prepare for retirement.
Late boomers, those born after 1955, must expect to work longer than previous generations before they qualify for Social Security benefits, the coalition says.
Social Security benefits are being reduced by gradually raising the normal retirement age to 67 by 2019.
The generation that came in with a boom is likely to go out the same way.
Retirement for baby boomers won’t focus on shuffleboard and early bird specials, and their golden years will include more rock ‘n’ roll than rocking chairs.
For Roy Beatty, a 58-year-old grandfather who lives in Winter Garden, Fla., many of his favorite moments lately have been spent “one inch off the ground, going 100 miles per hour in a car with no seat belts or roll bars.”
“I’m planning for retirement, I just don’t know when I’m going to start it,” he says, describing his favorite pastime — go-kart racing.
The first of the country’s 78.2 million baby boomers begin turning 60 next week, and their retirement likely will be filled with travel, dating, community service and even work.
In this series, The Washington Times examines how the aging of America’s largest generation will rock the social-service and health care systems created by their parents’ and grandparents’ generations and how the boomers are living out their own vision of getting older.
Even AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons) has undergone a transformation as boomers — one of whom turns 50 every eight seconds — have begun joining.
“We’re trying to get rid of that word because ‘retirement’ is retired,” says Shereen G. Remez, AARP’s acting group executive officer for membership. “More than half our members are working.”
Boomers might not hold full-time jobs in their retirement years, Ms. Remez says, but they will be volunteering, working part time — or just working out.
Last month, Ms. Remez, 57, ran her fourth mini-triathlon in Richmond, and she’s not alone — her generation is an active and health-conscious bunch.
For example, Marian Marbury climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last year with a group of women 37 to 65 years old.
“When I was young, I thought life stopped at 50,” says the 54-year-old former white-water canoeing instructor. “My mother did not take on new challenges in her life. Both of my parents stayed physically active, but I don’t think it even crossed their mental horizons that it was a possibility to climb Kilimanjaro.”
Ms. Marbury, by contrast, leads a life of adventure.
She runs the Baltimore-based firm Adventures in Good Company Inc., which plans 40 outdoor excursions — 10 on foreign soil — each year for active women. The groups have been around the globe, including Mount Everest base camp in Nepal and backpacking in the Grand Canyon.
One group will ring in the new year in Minnesota with dog-sledding and a lesson on timberwolves.
With good health and disposable income, boomers will enjoy retirements filled with activities such as white-water rafting and travel to exotic locales, Ms. Marbury predicts.
The average boomer spent $1,155 on leisure travel last year, and 72% have taken at least one leisure trip in the past 12 months, according to AARP research.
Ms. Marbury suggests that boomers start small, with local activities such as snowshoeing or kayaking.
“Try something new you’ve never done before that you’ve always wanted to do,” she says. “Just go for it.”
Many boomers are embracing their later years with an “it’s never too late to learn” attitude, pursuing activities and higher education.
“Boomers are vital, open, positive and optimistic,” Ms. Remez says. “They are going to reinvent their retirement, and nothing is going to stop them.”
Mr. Beatty, the go-kart racer who also runs a golf shop in Winter Garden, Fla., laughs when asked whether he would retire one day.
“I don’t know if I’m going to do that,” he says. “Why quit? I just never have thought about not doing something.”
In addition to racing — and winning — at Daytona and other tracks several times per year, he water-skis and fishes.
By 2030, the United States will be a nation of retirees, says Judy Morrison, a senior vice president at Fidelity Investments in Boston.
Boomers will have a different — and longer — retirement than past generations, she predicts, which is why Fidelity is helping them plan financially.
Last year, the AARP Public Policy Institute estimated that the average boomer born between 1946 and 1955 will have total wealth of $859,000 at 67. The average boomer born between 1956 and 1965 will have total wealth of $839,000 at 67.
Those totals surpass the wealth of current 67-year-olds, who have an average wealth of about $560,000, the research shows.
Advisers at Fidelity, which recently hired ex-Beatle Paul McCartney as a frontman, remind retirees that they should consider planning and saving for discretionary items such as golf club memberships and travel.
Americans are living longer on average than their parents and have a 25% chance of living until 97.
The average life expectancy of a boomer is 83, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In 2002, the average life expectancy for Americans born that year was 77.
Fidelity’s Ms. Morrison cites an example of a boomer-age couple who has been together since they were teens. They have always enjoyed dancing and are choosing to use their retirement to open a dancing studio.
“The revenue from teaching has helped them go on the trips they wanted to take,” says Ms. Morrison, who is also a baby boomer.
Fidelity’s tag line in its McCartney commercials is “Never stop doing what you love.”
Volunteer groups are hoping that civic-minded boomers will be generous with their time and money.
Organizations such as the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) predict that boomers are likely to donate to worthy causes and volunteer more than generations past because of their sheer numbers and increased wealth.
“I don’t think you see many of our generation sitting around the house and not doing much,” says Tom Blake, a dating-advice columnist for the Orange County Register in Southern California, who also owns a deli.
Carter Flemming of Alexandria, who became a full-time volunteer when her children were grown, encourages boomers to get engaged in their community.
“This is my work,” says Mrs. Flemming, 57, a former Capitol Hill staffer. “It keeps you young. It keeps your mind engaged. The rest of the boomers are going to end up just like me, they are not going to have a job they go to every day so they are going to be looking for things that give their life meaning.”
She volunteers at the Campagna Center, which runs Head Start programs and an after-school program in Alexandria.
She also serves on a housing authority to help with a senior high-rise apartment, works with the Red Cross and is a court-appointed special advocate for abused and neglected children.
“You can only travel so much, and you can only play golf so much until you wonder what is your purpose in life,” Mrs. Flemming says. “Leisure activities can’t sustain us for 30 years, and you can make a difference.”
She believes her generation was deeply moved by activists in the ‘60s.
“We saw the effect that we could have on changing policy direction in our country, and we’ve never lost that sense that you can do so much when you get together as a group and apply pressure to government,” she says. “People power is one of the solutions, and boomers are big in numbers.”
Mrs. Flemming is a spokeswoman for a new Web site run by CNCS, www.getinvolved.gov, which connects boomers with volunteer activities.
The CNCS campaign aims to shift the nation’s focus on aging from a picture of dependent, frail seniors to one of active and vibrant boomers who are engaged in volunteer work.
That sense of community has sparked a transformation of retirement homes, once thought of as sterile places that grandchildren would never want to visit.
“Boomers want to upscale, not downscale and keep the same lifestyle,” Ms. Remez says. “They don’t want to live in nursing homes.”
Developers are scrambling to create attractive condominiums and apartments near colleges that will be run with active boomers in mind.
According to Retirement Living News, developers are building homes and apartments for retired boomers that are “tech-ready,” with satellite television and home offices wired for high-speed Internet access.
Many boomers also want swimming pools to keep fit.
Arizona, home to many golf courses and spas, has become a favorite retirement spot.
Ms. Remez says fewer than 5% of the American population today will go to a nursing home, and most boomers are more health-conscious than any other past generation, embracing alternative medicine, healthful foods and yoga classes.
The generation of free love is no less passionate today than in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“Dating is alive and well,” the AARP’s Ms. Remez says. “Sex doesn’t end after 50.”
She notes that 30% of baby boomers are single, attributing the statistic to the feminist movement, which encouraged women to be more independent and seek jobs outside the home.
Women are more likely to initiate separation or divorce proceedings than they were before the feminist movement, she says, adding that many boomer women have never been married.
In addition, men and women of boomer age are enjoying the benefits of Viagra, Ms. Remez says.
AARP research shows that boomer-age women, who have a higher divorce rate than other women, prefer to date younger men. Another study shows that more than half of boomers believe sexual activity is a critical part of a good relationship.
“To them, sex is enjoyable, and many would be quite unhappy if they never had sex again,” according to the 2004 AARP study “Sexuality at Midlife and Beyond.”
The study also shows that one-third of boomers have sex at least once a week and that many boomers seek information about sex from the Internet.
Increased divorce rates among boomers and older couples has sparked the proliferation of dating sites on the Internet, says Mr. Blake, who also runs the Web site findingloveafter50.com.
The divorce rate was 3.7 out of every 1,000 people in 2004, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The national rate has been decreasing each year, the center says.
A Knowledge Networks study shows that 56% of boomer singles are separated or divorced, while 31% have never been married.
In 10 years, when the boomers are looking for love, “the dating sites probably will explode,” he says.
Already, the sites get millions of visits each month from boomer-age singles.
The actual dates look a lot different from previous generations. Couples might explore an arts festival or go hiking.
“I’m seeing a lot of the AARP folks take life and grab it pretty hard and get out there and do stuff,” Mr. Blake says.
Older performers like Neil Diamond and the Rolling Stones are the hottest tickets in town in part because boomers can afford the tickets.
In 2004, the top-selling tours included Madonna, with 900,000 attending, and Prince, with 1.5 million tickets sold.
Boomers have outgrown the motto of “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” but Ms. Remez says with a laugh, “They certainly don’t want to be called ‘elderly,’ ever.”
Beginning Jan. 1, another boomer will turn 60 years old every 7.5 seconds.
More than half of the boomers are at least 50.
Traditionally, marketers lose interest in consumers after they turn 50 as their spending habits became more conservative, along with their lifestyles.
However, with 78.2 million baby boomers in America’s wealthiest generation, they cannot be ignored.
The population of boomers is about 30% bigger than the generation of 20- to 40-year-olds who follow them.
“They’re going to continue to consume at record rates,” Mr. Thornhill says. “Already, they are the highest-spending demographic there is.”
Baby boomer spending habits showed up in this year’s Christmas shopping season, where the 40- to 59-year-olds typically say they learned through experience not to spend beyond their budgets.
“You become a little more sensible, a little more careful,” says Violetta DuBose, a 55-year-old program review specialist for the D.C. government.
This year, she gave gift cards to her nieces and nephews as Christmas presents. She also is balancing her budget to include payments on a second home she bought last year in Florida.
“That cuts out a lot of extravagance that I used to be able to throw away,” Miss DuBose says. “It’s time to think about saving.”
Companies are redesigning their products and services to accommodate the boomers.
Among Americans 50 to 64 years old, 58% use the Internet, according to a Pew Research Center study last year.
As a result, Internet designers are telling their computer specialists to use sharply contrasting colors to distinguish different parts of Web sites for visitors whose eyes are starting to fade.
Designers also are supposed to make layouts and navigation tools simple to use.
In another example, ski resort operators are smoothing down their slopes for the slowing reflexes, ebbing leg strength and joints that get sore more easily as the boomers age.
The percentage of skiers who are 45 or older has risen from 21% in the 1997-98 season to 31% last season, according to a National Ski Areas Association survey.
The prescription sunglasses industry is benefiting from the aging of baby boomers as presbyopia, a normal age-related blurring of vision for objects close to the face, becomes a common syndrome.
An estimated 90 million people in the United States have presbyopia or will develop it by 2014, according to the eyewear industry. Many are ordering prescription sunglasses.
“Clearly, we’ve seen a huge market fallout based almost solely on a demographic shift as the baby boom generation moves into their 50s and 60s,” says Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts, a market research publishing firm.
But one characteristic that distinguishes baby boomers from previous generations is a great diversity resulting from their large numbers and wide range of education levels, according to marketers.
“Almost any generalization you make about them can be shown to be wrong,” says Peter Francese, demographic trends analyst for Ogilvy & Mather, a New York advertising agency.
Boomers tend to have more flexible spending habits than their parents, reflecting the diversity of their backgrounds, he says.
Companies are offering a variety of products and advertising pitches for such a big market in which the only common trait is age.
• Clothing company the Gap started selling a line of casual wear and career clothing called Forth & Towne this year intended primarily for women older than 35. Other retailers, such as Chico’s FAS and Coldwater Creek, also offer clothes primarily for middle-age customers.
• Revlon has dumped the twenty-something women with flawless skin in its ads for older actresses such as 59-year-old Susan Sarandon and 51-year-old Christie Brinkley. They are used as role models for “age-defying” makeup.
• Dove soap has eliminated the teenage models in its ads, switching to “real women,” including baby boomers.
• Minute Maid is joining other food companies in selling “heart healthy” foods. Minute Maid sells Heart Wise, an orange juice fortified with plant sterols the company says can lower cholesterol.
• Visa USA has marketed its Visa Signature credit card since 1998 to households earning at least $125,000 a year. About $110 billion a year in purchases are made with the card, which includes robust amenities, such as 24-hour concierge service and merchant perks. Although anyone can qualify for the card, most of the users are 35 to 54 years old.
Advertisers are increasingly using “security blanket marketing,” in which they evoke an image or music to remind a target audience about the good times of their youth.
“It’s basically engaging in a bit of nostalgia,” says University of Maryland business professor Hank Boyd, a 41-year-old baby boomer.
Ameriprise Financial uses ads for its financial-planning services in which young people driving a minibus in the 1960s flash forward to middle age while driving the same minibus. The ad implies Ameriprise Financial can help baby boomers plan for retirement.
“It reminds you of the time you were protected, you were safe at home,” Mr. Boyd says. “That kind of imagery plays very well with these people as adults.”
Investment companies are one of the main services gaining prominence in ads to baby boomers as they focus more intently on retirement.
“We’re targeting the baby boomers as our core market,” says Paul Johnson, spokesman for Ameriprise Financial.
Within a few years, marketers predict that advertisements for retirement communities, travel services and health care will become more prevalent.
Close to home
For baby boomers who choose to live independently, real estate is likely to be their biggest investment in retirement, according to marketers.
Other major focuses are health, learning experiences and grandchildren.
“I’d say a driving characteristic of boomers is that they are going to do anything and everything they can to maintain their health and vitality,” says Mr. Thornhill, the Boomer Project president. “They’re going to put off getting old as long as they can.”
The vitality that they seek also means they would pass up relaxation for learning experiences, he says.
“By the time they reach 60, they are less interested in material goods and more interested in experiences,” such as cooking classes or African safaris, Mr. Thornhill says.
They also are more generous than their parents, meaning more contributions to their grandchildren or charity, he says.
Baby boomers who are grandparents spend an average of $100 more on their grandchildren a year than their parents’ World War II generation, according to research from the Boomer Project.
They also want housing that matches active lifestyles.
“The big difference between baby boomers and other generations is that they will live in multiple places,” says Mr. Francese, the Ogilvy & Mather demographer. “The previous generation moved to one location, like Florida, and stayed there.”
Baby boomers are more likely to maintain second homes if they can afford them, he says.
One house might be near their children or their employer, he says. The other is likely to be in a traditional senior vacation spot, such as Florida or Arizona.
A 1999 survey of baby boomer preferences by retirement community developer Del Webb found that boomers prefer not to move too far when they retire.
Only 30% say they would move a long distance to places such as Las Vegas; Phoenix; Orlando, Fla.; or Raleigh, N.C., which are among the top 10 favorite places for retirees older than 65 to live.
Another 30% plan to move less than three hours away from the homes where they made their careers and raised their children. Forty percent do not plan to move.
If they choose a new home, “their preferred type of housing is a condominium because they don’t want to be bothered with mowing the lawn, clipping the shrubs and painting the house,” Mr. Francese says. “You can already see that among older baby boomers. They want to travel, they want to do other things.”
Many are selling the homes where they raised their children to downsize to smaller homes. They use the surplus money for travel and entertainment.
The baby boom generation is making 55-and-older developments one of the fastest-growing segments of the real estate industry.
Baby boomers older than 50 are buying more than 25% of the 1.2 million homes being built this year, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
One of them is Martin Siegel, a Tysons Corner dentist, who is selling his 10,000-square-foot home after his two sons graduated from college and his wife died last year.
“Myself, I’m kind of looking for a condo down in Florida in the next couple of years,” says Dr. Siegel, 59. “The ideal situation for me would be spending winters in Florida and then coming back to Washington.”
He is buying a 1,500-square-foot condominium in Reston Town Center for $700,000.
Although it is much smaller than his house, he prefers the convenience of no upkeep and being able to walk to restaurants, theaters and other activities
“It’s a turnkey operation,” he says. “There’s really not much you need to do. That’s what people want nowadays.”
Nearly all his neighbors are baby boomers, he says.
The number of Americans retiring abroad has soared in recent years, says Roger Gallo of EscapeArtist.com.
“On $50,000 a year, you could live like a king,” says Mr. Gallo by telephone from his 135-acre vineyard in Argentina.
He says picking where to retire is like picking a lover.
“It all depends on what you like,” he says.
The biggest “problem” expatriate retirees face is “relatives and grandchildren.” For those who need to fly back and forth two or three times a year, he recommends Central America, specifically Panama.
“You can live there for 50% of what it costs to live in the United States, and it’s safe,” he says.
In addition, restaurants and pharmacies have retiree discounts and incentives.
For those who don’t mind being farther away, “You can’t go wrong with Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay,” he says.
He says Eastern Europe is still a bargain, but won’t be for long.
The nation’s health care system is in for a shock as the baby boomers move into their retirement years.
Geriatric care specialists agree that medical resources will be inadequate for the burgeoning senior population, expected to double from 35 million to 70 million in less than 20 years.
“The shortage will be disastrous. It’s really scary,” says Russell Bodoff, executive director of the Center for Aging Services Technology with the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA).
Larry Minnix, chief executive officer of AAHSA, says an “overburdening” of health care is “coming close now.”
In this series, The Washington Times has examined how the boomers are living out their own vision of getting older, but the aging of America’s largest generation also will rock the social-service and health care systems created by their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
The health of Americans older than 65 has been improving since the early 1980s, according to a recent Rand Corporation study. Both Rand, a California-based nonprofit research organization, and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) say some financial savings could be realized if the trend continues.
“We need to find out why and to seek ways to maintain that decrease in disability rates,” NIA spokeswoman Vicky Cahan says.
But the Rand study notes that “diseases such as obesity and diabetes are increasingly prevalent among the young,” suggesting that “future Medicare beneficiaries might be less healthy than current ones.”
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 40% of Americans 45 to 64 have high blood pressure, and 36% are obese. Both are serious risk factors for heart disease and stroke, the number one and number three causes of death, respectively, in the United States.
The Rand study, released in late September, predicts that new medical technologies, likely to be in widespread use in the next 25 years, could greatly increase Medicare costs, posing financial risk to the government’s health insurance program for the elderly, which already faces serious problems.
Single treatments with new medical technologies, such as implantable defibrillators for heart ailments or drugs to prevent Alzheimer’s, could raise Medicare costs by as much as 70%, the study says.
“This technology is valuable because it will improve health and extend lives. But we need to begin thinking about how to pay for it,” says Dana Goldman, chief health economist for Rand and principal author of the report.
Mr. Goldman predicts that any savings realized through lower elderly disability rates will be offset by increased spending on healthy Medicare recipients who live longer.
Mr. Bodoff of AAHSA agrees.
“Everyone starts declining at some point. So if people live longer, it costs more to take care of them,” he says, adding, “The longer a person lives, the greater the financial burden they pose on the health care system.”
The outlook is particularly worrisome, Mr. Bodoff says, because of “epidemics” such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes and obesity that are plaguing the country, as well as a sharp rise in hypertension, or high blood pressure.
“Total Medicare expenditures were $309 billion in 2004 and are expected to increase in future years at a faster pace than either workers’ earnings or the economy overall,” according to the 2005 report by the Medicare Board of Trustees.
The report goes on to say that Medicare spending is expected to exceed that for Social Security in 2024 and to be almost twice as great as Social Security by 2079.
In 1966, a year after the Medicare program started, its expenses totaled $1.8 billion, while Medicaid cost $632 million, according to federal data. Total national health expenditures at that time were $45.1 billion.
National health expenditures likely will reach $3.6 trillion in 2014, more than twice the current spending, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The agency also says Medicare costs alone are likely to reach nearly $690 billion in 2013, and Medicaid spending will top $328 billion.
Medicare trustees say the magnitude of spending growth expected for that program in the coming years, “if realized, would place a substantially greater strain on the nation’s workers, Medicare beneficiaries and the federal budget.”
Every day, 10,000 baby boomers turn 50, and half of them will be 50 and older at the end of this year, according to the Boomer Project, a marketing consultant and research firm based in Richmond.
And those who are now 50 years old expect to live 35 more years, the Boomer Project says.
Matt Thornhill, president of the Boomer Project and a boomer himself, says he agrees that taking care of this population when they become sick will be a “huge problem,” given their numbers.
“There won’t even be close to enough” nursing homes and other medical facilities to address the need, he says.
Mr. Thornhill says he recognizes the health care industry — including acute care hospitals, long-term care facilities and assisted-living institutions that provide differing levels of service and medical care — is worried about where all these people will end up as they grow older and start facing physical and mental decline.
“There will be so many of them who are not dying,” he says, adding, “Boomers will focus on maintaining their vitality as long as they can, even though a third of them have less than $1,000 in their retirement accounts.”
Indeed, the recent Rand study examining future Medicare costs showed that boomers will demand the best in medical technology to keep themselves vital and that the costs will be enormous.
For example, the study estimates that annual treatment costs for the Alzheimer’s drugs alone would be nearly $63 billion in 2030.
“You can expect Medicare costs to grow with all these emerging technologies,” Rand spokesman Warren Robak says.
The Rand study concludes that “new technologies will increase health care expenditures because the reduction in spending resulting from better health will be outweighed by the costs of the technologies themselves and by health expenditures during the additional years of life the technologies may make possible.”
Mr. Thornhill predicts that “20 years from now, health care [for seniors] will not be anything like it is today.”
According to NIA and AAHSA, there will be a shift away from nursing homes, except for those who are very sick, and a shift toward more support services that allow retirees to remain independent in their own homes longer.
Mr. Bodoff says development of technology that would allow in-home monitoring of elderly patients’ heart rates, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels is already taking place. So, too, is work on sensory devices to dispense medications for seniors in their homes, as well as to alert health care professionals if a senior falls or is receiving inadequate nutrition, hydration or sleep, he says.
Further down the line, there could even be robots to assist seniors at home, Mr. Bodoff says.
But Mr. Bodoff cautions that there will have to be changes in the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement schedules to pay for such at-home support services.
“We need a policy fix to meet consumers’ preferences,” Miss Cahan of NIA says.
Problems that first need to be addressed before such a fix, Mr. Bodoff says, include “liability concerns, privacy and security issues, and current intrastate licensing restrictions on doctors.”
Says Mr. Minnix of AAHSA, “The present health care system was designed 40 years ago. There’s not enough money in America to keep doing things badly. But there is enough money to redesign the system and start doing things well.”
But Sharon Lilly, 59, a working boomer who lives in Richmond, is not optimistic.
“I would have thought something would have been done by now for the boomer population in terms of major changes in health insurance coverage,” Mrs. Lilly says. “I had expected that to happen. But at this point, I don’t expect any changes in insurance coverage.”
Another boomer, Celeste McDonald, clinical coordinator for wound care at the Carroll Hospital Center in Westminister, Md., says she feels it’s essential that aging citizens do all they can to prevent serious medical problems by keeping fit and healthy by eating properly, exercising and avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking and overeating.
“With the increasing number of seniors, health care will become a gigantic medical issue. We’re already seeing a lot of issues with compliance, because elderly people can’t afford to follow treatment either because they can’t afford to pay for it or they have no help,” Ms. McDonald says.
Health care is “almost becoming a fast-food type of arena, and a lot more responsibility is being placed on the elderly in this area than ever before,” she says.
“As I get older, I am keeping myself as healthy as possible. I’m convinced that things I can control myself will make quite a difference.”
More babies were born in the United States in 2007 than any year in the nation’s history, topping the peak during the baby boom 50 years earlier, federal researchers reported Wednesday.
There is both good and bad news from the more than 4.3 million births:
—The U.S. population is more than replacing itself, a healthy trend.
—However, the teen birth rate was up for the second year in a row.
The birth rate rose slightly for women of all ages, and births to unwed mothers reached an all-time high of about 40%, continuing a trend begun years ago. More than three-quarters of these women were 20 or older.
For a variety of reasons, it’s become more acceptable for women to have babies without a husband, said Duke University’s S. Philip Morgan, a leading fertility researcher.
Even happy couples may be living together without getting married, experts say. And more women — especially those in their 30s and 40s — are choosing to have children despite their single status.
The new numbers indicate the nation is experiencing a baby boomlet with fertility rates higher in every racial group. On average, a U.S. woman has 2.1 babies in her lifetime. The highest fertility rates were among Hispanics.
But it’s not clear the boomlet will last long. Some experts think birth rates are already declining because of the economic recession that began in late 2007.
“I expect they’ll go back down. The lowest birth rates recorded in the United States occurred during the Great Depression — and that was before modern contraception,” said Dr. Carol Hogue, an Emory University professor of maternal and child health.
The 2007 statistical snapshot reflected a relatively good economy coupled with cultural trends that promoted childbirth, she and others noted.
Meanwhile, U.S. abortions have been dropping to their lowest levels in decades, according to other reports. Some have attributed the abortion decline to better use of contraceptives, but other experts have wondered if the rise in births might indicate a failure in proper use of contraceptives. Some earlier studies have shown declining availability of abortions.
Cultural attitudes may be a more likely explanation. Morgan noted the pregnancy of Bristol Palin, the unmarried teen daughter of former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The young woman had a baby boy in December, and plans for a wedding with the father, Levi Johnston, were scrapped.
“She’s the poster child for what you do when you get pregnant now,” Morgan said.
Teen women tend to follow what their older sisters do, so perhaps it’s not surprising that teen births are going up just like births to older women, said Sarah Brown, the chief executive for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Indeed, it’s harder to understand why teen births had been declining for about 15 years before the recent uptick, she said. It may have been due to a concentrated societal effort to reduce teen births in the 1990s that has waned in recent years, she said.
The statistics are based on a review of most 2007 birth certificates by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers also showed:
—Cesarean section deliveries continue to rise, now accounting for almost a third of all births. Health officials say that rate is much higher than is medically necessary. About 34% of births to black women were by C-section, more than any other racial group. But geographically, the percentages were highest in Puerto Rico, at 49%, and New Jersey, at 38%.
—The pre-term birth rate, for infants delivered at less than 37 weeks of pregnancy, declined slightly. It had been generally increasing since the early 1980s. Experts said they aren’t sure why it went down.
—Among the states, Utah continued to have the highest birth rate and Vermont the lowest.
CDC officials noted that despite the record number of births, this is nothing like what occurred in the 1950s, when a much smaller population of women were having nearly four children each, on average. That baby boom quickly transformed society, affecting everything from school construction to consumer culture.
Today, U.S. women are averaging 2.1 children each. That’s the highest level it’s been since the early 1970s, but is a relatively small increase from the rate it had hovered at for more than 10 years and is hardly transforming.
“It’s the tiniest of baby booms,” said Morgan in agreement. “This is not an earthquake; it’s a slight tremor.”
Complied by Avery Page and Richard Johnson
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