They came of age starting in the turbulent 1960s amid the Vietnam War, the fight for civil rights and women's rights. Today, America's largest generation, the boomers (those born 1946-1964), still question authority and have a strong social conscience, according to an AARP Bulletin poll on perceptions of boomers.
The oldest of the boomers are turning 65 this month. Yet at least two in three boomers — who were 46 to 64 years old when the poll was done in November — fear aging, think that the term "senior" doesn't apply to them and believe that they'll be healthier in retirement than their parents were, the survey found.
But they may not be better off financially. Only 43 percent of 1,507 people age 18 and up surveyed say they believe that boomers will have more money in retirement compared with their parents' generation. Among the boomers polled, 45 percent of those ages 46 to 53, and 54 percent of those ages 54 to 64, agree.
"I think that we'll have to deal with less than our parents did in retirement," says Deborah J. Fickett, 58, a retired teacher from South Paris, Maine. "Our generation hasn't saved as well, and we spend a lot of money on unnecessary things. We've also had wars to pay for, and that's still on our backs."
Perhaps those are among the reasons that an overwhelming majority of boomers surveyed say their generation will continue to work in retirement — 88 percent of those 46 to 53, and 87 percent of those 54 to 64. Most believe they'll also live longer in retirement (75 percent and 82 percent, respectively).
The hip factor
Are boomers overindulgent? Apparently, many older folks think so. Of people 65 and older polled, 79 percent say boomers have grown up to expect comfort, convenience and fun. Boomers seem to agree (77 percent of those 46 to 53, and 72 percent of those 54 to 64). About 58 percent of people ages 18 to 34, and 61 percent of those ages 35 to 45, also say that's true.
The children of the psychedelic 1960s also believe they're hip. Most of the respondents (78 percent of people 46 to 53, and 76 percent of those 54 to 64) say boomers act younger than their age. But among people who aren't in that generation, fewer agree with that opinion: 67 percent of those 65-plus, 54 percent of those 35 to 45, and 61 percent of those 18 to 34.
When it comes to their appearance, 73 percent of respondents across all age groups believe that boomers try to look youthful. Indeed, boomers believe that in higher numbers — 85 percent of people 46 to 53, and 81 percent of those 54 to 64, agree with that statement.
"They're more aware of their appearance than previous generations," says Marion Mulhearn, 71, of Chalfont, Pa., just outside Philadelphia. "And boomers have more money available" to invest in their looks.
An eye toward technology
Known for being skeptical of government in their younger days, boomers today haven't changed in that regard, according to 81 percent of those polled between the ages of 46 to 53, and 79 percent of those 54 to 64. About 70 percent of people 35 to 45 think boomers are cynical, along with 75 percent of people 65 and up.
"With boomers, they delved into things more," adds Mulhearn, a retired Navy supply technician. "They didn't just accept what the government put out. They questioned it."
Adapting to today's technology doesn't appear to be a problem for boomers. Nearly three in four say their generation is very knowledgeable about technology. Among all age groups, 56 percent of respondents agree with that statement, although only 38 percent of respondents ages 18 to 45 thought so.
Boomers are also believed to have a strong entrepreneurial bent, according to 59 percent of respondents. Among boomers polled, two in three concur.
Nearly six in 10 respondents (59 percent) agree that boomers will volunteer only if the work is meaningful. Among the boomers polled, that figure is higher (about 68 percent).
Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.