Active Aging throws some curve balls

At first you may consider the relationship between the words Baby Boomer, divorce, career and healthy living somewhat unusual bedfellows. But In fact, these terms have plenty in common.

Divorce. A nasty word for some but demographic stats can tell us a lot about what is going on in North America with the Boomer generation (born 1945–1965) and why divorce is such a popular subject.

A poll of American divorce lawyers conducted by the AAML association, showed that 61 percent of lawyers have seen an increase in the number of gray divorces among people over 50 in the United States. Most of these divorces are being initiated by wives.

There is no doubt that Boomers have been on the forefront of change in the past 4 decades and getting divorced in their later years is just one of their latest trends, suggests Alton Abramowitz, lawyer and president of the AAML. Mr. Abramowitz indicated there has been a recent surge in over-50s divorces.

So, what is going on with Boomers?

Pew Research Center suggests Boomers experienced unprecedented levels of divorce early in life. This marital instability is once again contributing to the rising divorce rate among adults ages 50 and older second time-around; the remarriage less stable than the first marriage. The divorce rate for adults aged 50 and older in remarriages is double the rate of those who have only been married once. Among all adults 50 and older who divorced in 2015, 48% had been in their second or higher marriage.

The same people who had unprecedented divorce incidence in 1980 and 1990 when they were in their 20s and 30s are now in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. They are now middle-aged, and their pattern of high marital instability continues.

You’ve probably heard the expression “Blame the Baby Boomers”. Well, there is some truth in the statement. As the Washington Post suggests, they started divorcing at record rates in the 1970s and never stopped. And, while divorce fell somewhat among younger Americans over the past 25 years, it has risen substantially among older adults. The Baby Boom generation continues to be responsible for the continuous rise in marital instability.

But why?

Boomers have a very different attitude toward marriage than their parents when they were young, and the with the number of divorces growing, they still think that way even as they retire. Add to that how divorce has become less of an issue and how women are now an integral part of the business workplace, and you’ve got the right ingredients for individual independence. “I don’t think boomers are any less happy in their marriages,” says Susan Brown, Bowling Green University Sociologist. “As people live longer, there’s more motivation to get divorced, because there’s a lot of life left to be lived.”

Changes in aging attitudes is driving a new mindset.

Consider some of the changes Boomers are experiencing and setting precedent as they age:

  1. Many Boomers are healthier and re-evaluating the next ‘active’ 30+ more years of life.
  2. Many are considering retirement before they reach 65. This has ramifications on how they live their remaining years and what luxuries or commodities they want to enjoy.
  3. The children of Boomers are moving out of the family home and leaving their parents with more alone-with-each-other time to be figured out between them.
  4. It’s easier to get a divorce these days, even after lengthy marriages. Divorces are no longer taboo. Living as a single parent is commonplace and children are more comfortable with the logistics of both parents. In fact single parent households are becoming increasingly common.
  5. More individuals, both men and women over 50+ are confident, well-educated and currently enjoy fulfilling multi-careers. They expect to exceed their parents’ standard of living.
  6. Many adults cresting 55 have financial freedom and significant spending power.
  7. There is a growing desire to experience new opportunities, travel, challenges, new vocations, plus explore and become more culturally savvy.
  8. Boomers are more aware of healthy living and ensuring their bodies are attractive, fit and strong. There is more accessible information, especially online regarding ways to live a long life.
  9. Adults 50+ are prepared to push the boundaries of aging and physical fitness well into their 70’s and 80’s.

With all this new-found independence, what is a 55-year-old going to do with the rest of their life?

Well, the Royal Bank of Canada released a poll recently revealing that nearly half of surveyed Canadians over 55 feel that they’re falling short of saving enough to retire — but only a third are now willing to tweak their lifestyle plans to face that reality.

Are the days of working for one company your whole career, and retiring with a gold watch gone?

Most say yes. In fact, there has been a shift in the differences in attitude Boomers have about jobs — and benefits. New Careers for Older Workers, looked at people who changed or tried to change jobs after age 45 and found that 82% of people 47 and older who took up new careers in the last two years were successful, and 50% saw a salary increase.

Staying with one employer has its difficulties. Those defined benefit pension plans are slowly disappearing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 18% of private workers were covered by these plans in 2011, down from 35% in the early 1990s. More common in the US are plans like 401(k)s, which are more portable from one employer to another.

While some of the fortunate are retiring with plans for an active future of physical fitness and travel, most of the aging population will probably work well into their 60’s and early 70’s. This too, will be a change paradigm for many companies forcing a shift in organizational behaviours and benefits.

Whether we retire earlier or later in life, adults now want their latter years to have deeper personal meaning. Volunteerism, enhanced education and hands-on experiential programs are hot topics for 55 year olds looking for intrinsic motivation. Personal growth in areas such as cultural and environmental mindfulness and personal wellness are all relevant for actively engaged 55+ adults. Many want their jobs to embrace more of their own beliefs and ideals, to make going to work everyday a better blend of what they personally value.

Adults over 55 are now acutely aware that they have at least 30 more years to live, are healthier, wealthier and more active than previous generations at their age. They have choices and plenty of them.

They want a life full of options and they want to live it well.

Are there bumps in the road? Of course. There is usually more than one person involved in all life change decisions and…the more people involved, the more complicated. Careers can be switched, partners can be switched but living a healthy happy life is work and it can be hard. It requires effort and desire.

And, just to complicate things further, there’s a trend among Baby Boomers who are in monogamous dating relationships: It’s called “Living Apart Together,” or LAT. These partners are happy in their coupled relationship — they just want to have their own bed at the end of the day.

Research on LAT’s suggests, the 50-plus age group indicate they were more than likely to stay with a LAT relationship rather than cohabitate. This isn’t that surprising knowing that the Boomer generation is more self-involved and has less willingness to compromise. Gail Sheehy, author of Sex and the Seasoned Woman says “Baby Boomers want to have the freedom to live on their own terms. As you age, you have more commitments and possessions in your life that you are attached to that the other person may not want to share.” She goes on to say, “This is a new universe of passionate, liberated women–married and single–and unwilling to settle for the stereotypical roles of middle age and, they are now realizing they don’t have to.”

LAT living may not be for everyone but this new paradigm has gained some traction with Boomers looking to re-invent the way they live and think. LAT allows each partner to live with his or her own idiosyncrasies without having to change. It also goes a long way in keeping the passions and excitement alive with potentially less arguing and more focus on the good and energizing part of the relationship.

Life can be complicated after 50, especially with re-evaluating your life, love, career and just about every other choice you may have made up until then. But, it can also be a reawakening of oneself.

Add a great deal of new knowledge on foods, fitness and how to keep the body strong and young as we age and it become more apparent why the largest bulge in the population is taking on life for the next 30 years with a vengeance.

I personally like to think of the changes in relationships, careers and active aging as a breath of fresh and invigorating air; a re-vitalization of choices and pursuits, a re-awakening of curiosity and liberation.

illustration credit: Global Mechanic