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Stuck in the Middle

Will the baby boom's second wave (there are three) have the means to retire?

We may think of the boomers as a single, unified generation, but those born from 1946 to 1964 are more like three generations: youngest, middle and oldest.

Insurance giant MetLife’s research group, Mature Marketing Institute, just completed an interesting look at the largest of these intra-boomer generations. The middle boomers, as the report refers to those who are 52 to 58 years old in 2010, account for 38 percent of the total. And they have something of an identity crisis.

If they were in a family, “they would probably share some of the characteristics of the proverbial middle child—somewhat caught between the differing identities of both older and younger siblings and at the same time struggling to assert their own,” the report finds.

The middle boomers, according to MMI’s research, give the impression that they really identify more with that cool older sister or brother. After all, they were growing up (between ages 9 and 15) when the boomer generation was named Man of the Year in 1967 by Time magazine.

Back then it was a generation (or couple of generations) more lauded than resented, a group that seemed to have the world at its feet. Maybe that’s why the middle boomers (or at least two-thirds of them) like the term boomer almost as much as older boomers do.

In contrast, the youngest boomers, who are just approaching or entering their 50s, are much more likely to identify with the younger Generation X.

Not that approaching or turning 50 is a big deal, according to a majority of those surveyed. It’s not a portal into old age. I’m thinking of my friend who recently celebrated her 50th in a skin-tight leopard-print dress, looking better than most of us did in our 20s, and disco-dancing with her three young daughters and friends.

Guess what changes as you get older? Your definition of old age. For the youngest boomers it starts at age 71, for the middle boomers it’s 75, and for the oldest boomers its 78. And for women in the middle, old age begins later (77) than it does for men (74).

Troubling signals about retirement readiness

There were a couple of findings that surprised me, mainly those that have to do with economic security in retirement. The middle boomers’ biggest concern regarding retirement was being able to afford health care, an issue that probably was on many minds because of the yearlong debate on how to provide better and more affordable health care.

Staying productive and useful was a bigger issue than some other financial concerns, which is understandable. But I worry that this group may be overestimating its financial preparedness for retirement.

One of the most troubling signals is that a majority said they plan to take Social Security at or before they turn 65, the age at which many of them hope to be able to retire. But while 65 was once the age at which workers reached full eligibility for retirement, this is no longer the case. The full eligibility age for Social Security has moved up. For the middle boomers, it will be from age 66 to 66 and 10 months. Those who take their benefits earlier will receive reduced benefits for the rest of their lives.

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