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Not Your Father's Retirement

Turning 65 today is different than it used to be: Baby boomers refuse to grow old!

Boomers@65When my father was 65, he was still waiting for the musical colossi of his youth to make a comeback. But by then, most of them — Duke Ellington, Harry James, the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller — were long gone.

En español |By contrast, people turning 65 today can go see the musical heroes that brightened their youth any day of the week, because they never really went away. Paul McCartney recently played the Apollo in Harlem. Keith Richards just released his autobiography. Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Smokey Robinson and Paul Simon are all very much alive and kicking. Well, alive.

This is entirely different from my parents' era, when the heroes of the 1940s were mostly shunted to the side by the time they reached their 60s. In previous eras, when people reached retirement age, they grudgingly had to admit the world no longer belonged to them.

Boomers do exactly the opposite. If young people introduce something that they like — Starbucks, iPods, Facebook, the Fugees, Barack Obama — boomers immediately annex it.

It doesn't matter if these things were not specifically designed for them: When you're 77 million strong, and the generation that comes after you is just half the size, and you have all the money, you can colonize anything. Because you make the rules. And the one rule all boomers still live by was enunciated by Elton John 30 years ago: I'm still standing. Boomers will not leave the work force.

They will not leave the concert halls. They will not leave the stage. They are not going quietly.

The difference between the way boomers respond to turning 65 and the way their parents dealt with the same watershed moment is startling. Boomers aren't smoking themselves into an early grave the way their parents did.

They take more and stranger vitamins than their parents. They jog. They power walk. They play tennis and racquetball and even basketball well into their 60s, whereas their parents threw in the towel on exercise shortly after the Marines took Iwo Jima.

Boomers believe that it is never too late to change careers, to change appearances, to change physiques, to change economic classes, to change hair colors. Boomers sincerely believe that it is never too late to reinvent one's personality. Or to learn Dutch. Or to start rock climbing.

There are two profound differences between retirement-age boomers and their parents at the same age. Well, three, if you include eating a lot more hummus. Actually, four if you include the fact that men of the Greatest Generation went gray gracefully, whereas boomer males go rust/auburn/blonde gracefully.

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