So there is meaningful work aplenty. Even if boomers wanted to amble off to the fishing hole for the remainder of their years, the rest of us can't afford to let them: We still need them here.
And this is an apt thing, in many ways. "Boomers want to be where the action is," Dychtwald says — and they'll get their wish. "I don't think all 78 million boomers are going to have an easy and carefree time of it. I do think we will make it a more robust and interesting period of life than we have to date."
But there's also a danger of creating unrealistic expectations for older adults, says Marty Martinson, professor of health education at San Francisco State University. "It's one thing to say we need to create communities where elders are part of the fabric of what is going on," she says. "But we've constructed this idea of the 90-year-old surfer-volunteer as the ideal retiree." Yes, older people want to be active, useful parts of society, Martinson is quick to add. But this should be a choice, not an obligation.
There is something to be said for Martinson's take. If we once implied that older Americans had a duty to go off and enjoy themselves, we're now risking expecting the exact opposite — that they have responsibility to the rest of us.
See also: Myths about the 50+
No wonder "retirement" no longer seems like the right word to describe this strange new time. The idea of having a life after leaving the workforce barely existed a century ago; today, it's an institution. As circumstances change, so will what we think we want from this still-evolving life stage. It's going to be a work in progress for a long time.
And that's a good thing. For a generation that has always defied expectations, this last act will be one to watch.
Helaine Olen is the author of Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry.
As the last of the Baby Boomer Generation turns 50 and more baby boomers are retiring, AARP celebrates the generation that changed the world.
© Sandra J. Huston, Texas Tech University
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