The First of the Generation Xers Starting (Gulp) to hit the Big 50

Published in the Woonsocket Call on January 10, 2016

With the New Year’s celebration on January 1, the first of America’s 62 million Generation Xers are on AARP’s radar screen as potential members. These individuals have hit a demographic milestone, turning age 50 this year.  Now, it’s time for the generation that is following the Baby Boomers, to begin thinking about their later years and what resources they will need if they are thrust into the role of caregiver for their parents and grandparents.

Demographers says that Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1979) is the middle generation, sandwiched between Baby Boomers and Millennials.  “As they grow older, it is important to acknowledge that they are having a different experience than their cohorts, and that they are more than just an unsung demographic who wore parachute pants and acid wash jeans,” says a recent AARP press statement, announcing the first arrival of this generation into their fifth decade.

The First Vanguard of Gen Xer’s Turn 50

AARP notes in 2015, 4.4 million Gen Xers hit the big-5-0.  This year another 4.1 million are expected to join the ranks of Americans over age 50, notes AARP, predicting that this generation will take on the role of challenging “outdated perceptions of aging and empower people to take control of their futures”

“AARP is excited to welcome Generation X to the 50-plus community and be a resource for them as they embrace their age and live the life that they want,” said Sami Hassanyeh, AARP Chief Digital Officer. “They face different challenges and have different goals than their predecessors, and deserve every opportunity to explore the possibilities that lie ahead.”

According to the Washington, D.C.-based AARP, the nation’s largest aging organization, Generation Xers carry far more fiscal responsibilities than previous generations have or even the next one, the Millennial Generation.  Now, in their 40s and 50s, this generation is financially supporting their children while being caregivers for their aging parents.  With life expectancy increasing Generation Xers must continue working to pay the bills, but like the aging baby boomers must rethink the concept of growing old and where they will put their time and energy in retirement.

“Though Generation Xers feel less financially secure than their parents in regards to retirement, they also plan to work longer and embrace new opportunities in this evolving life phase. Most people turning 50 today can expect to live another 30-plus years, and many are already taking steps towards increasing their longevity – 87% consider themselves in good health and 55% maintain a healthy diet. They are re-imagining this life transition and expect their future years to be more flexible and rewarding than ever before,” says the AARP statement.

Key Generation Xer’s Metrics

AARP Research provides a snap shoot the Generation Xers (www.aarp.org/research/topics/life/info-2015/generation-x-snapshots.html?cmp=RDRCT-GNXNST_DEC08_015).  As to diversity: sixty percent are white; 18 percent Hispanic/Latino; 12 percent are African and 7 percent Asian.  Most are married (64%) but one in five (19%) have never married.  Fifty percent of Generation Xers have children age 18 years or younger living at home while 67 percent of this generation have children of any age living at home.  This generation is well-educated with 35 percent receiving a Bachelor’s degree or higher (35%). Twenty seven percent have some college education.  The median income of this generation is $70,501.

Fifty six percent of this generation feels overwhelmed with financial burden (carrying an average debt of $111,000). Fifty five percent use the internet for on-line banking.

But, when thinking about retirement, 35 percent are confident they will have enough income to live the life they envision in retirement.  But, few Generation Xers are confident Medicare (34%) and Social Security (24%) will be available to them like it is for those currently receiving the retirement checks.

Looking at health, Generation Xers say that “the number one element for a good life is good health.”  They take responsibility for maintaining their health and well- being, too. Eighty six percent of this generation has health insurance.  Seventy two percent say that they trust their physicians the most for health information.

“From my perspective, this age group entering our membership demographic signals an opportunity for AARP to build our relevance in the lower end of the 50+ population,” said John Martin, Director of Communications at AARP Rhode Island. “When I meet these folks I get excited because more likely than not, they have been connected to the Internet for some time and are up to speed when it comes to technology and social media.

Time is on Their Side

“Generation X, the research shows, is quite forward-looking – as well as motivated — when it comes to working and living in one’s 50s with an eye toward health & fitness, retirement planning and having a say in making sure one’s community is heading in the right direction. The good news for Generation X, I would say, is that time is on their side. They can make changes during the final 15-20 years of their work life that will make everything after much better. So, when they embrace online resources and I can keep them current via email on issues relevant to the road ahead it is very exciting,” Martin added.

“I am pleasantly surprised when I meet people across Rhode Island who declare ‘now that I’m 50’ it’s time to join AARP. To me, what they are saying is that they get it,  that membership represents a transition that is all about fulfilling their aspirations and building confidence that they will live out their lives with independence and dignity.”

AARP is no longer the membership organization for just the Greatest Generation (1900 to 1924), the Silent Generation (1925 to 1944) and Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964). It is fr Gen Xers (1965 to 1984), too, especially if they want to take control of the quality of life they will experience in their retirement years and beyond.

For more information about AARP, go to AARP.org.

 

 

 

 

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AARP Research Study Explores Why People Are Happy

Published September 14, 2012, Pawtucket Times

           “Good conversation, meeting new people while traveling, and being in good health” brings much happiness to long-time Pawtucket resident Jean Babiec.  The former Providence school teacher, in her eighth decade, added she would be ‘extremely happy’ if the Rhode Island General Assembly passed legislation, signed by Governor Lincoln Chafee, to create a Pawtucket Red Sox vanity license plate.

           At-Large Pawtucket City Councilor, Lorenzo C. Tetreault, 65, is “the happiest when he can help others.”  The retired Pawtucket teacher is also happy when he holds his one-year old twin grandsons from Narragansett, Samuel and Benjamin, in his arms.

           Former Pawtucket Tax Assessor, Dave Quinn, 64, who now oversees the Tax Office in the City of Providence, finds happiness “knowing that his family is healthy and his children are doing well.”  The Seekonk resident also feels happy by being intellectually challenged by his job.

           Babiec, Tetreault and Quinn’s statements on what makes them happy are reflected by others documented in a recently released AARP study on what happiness means to aging baby boomers.  The findings of this report indicate that relationships and being in control of your health and life are key factors in bringing happiness into your life.  

Defining Happiness

            The new AARP study, titled “Beyond Happiness: Thriving,” found that most Americans age 35 and over are happy, but compared to historical General Social Survey (GSS) data, levels of happiness are on the decline and at their lowest levels (due in part to the nation’s economic downturn).  In an effort to explore what happiness means to aging baby boomers and what it takes to thrive as they age, over 4,000 adults age 35 and over were surveyed to determine what makes them happy.   

             “We’re always looking to get a more robust understanding of the contributors and barriers to happiness in people’s lives,” said Steve Cone, Executive Vice President of Integrated Value Strategy, AARP. “Building on previous AARP research, which shows the importance of happiness and peace of mind to aging baby boomers, these new results affirm that we are on the right track—advocating to ensure basic health and financial security and making available everyday discounts that let people enjoy time with family and friends.”  

             According to researchers, the findings of this study reveal the existence of a U-shape curve of happiness by age. The early 50s is the lowest point from which happiness builds. Thus, if you missed happiness in your 30’s, there is still another chance to achieve it in your 60’s.

             The Researchers note that as people age and eventually retire, they can devote more time to building relationships and just enjoying simple everyday pleasures.  Younger people are still working hard to solidify their accomplishments.

           The AARP study’s results also provide four key insights around the drivers of happiness.

The Happiness Spectrum

            Overall, the strong majority (68%) of respondents say they are happy, although intensity of happiness is somewhat tempered as the largest percent report being somewhat happy (49%) versus very happy (19%). Almost half of those surveyed feel they are just as happy as others (49%) and the rest tend to believe that they are happier than others (31%) as opposed to less happy than others (13%). Part of this may be attributed to the perceptions of people being the masters of their own happiness destiny.

            More interesting, the respondents were concern for the happiness of the next generation. Less than half feel they will be as happy or more (45%). Most are either not sure (19%) or believe they will be less happy (35%).

Relationships Key to Happiness 

           The AARP survey findings also indicate that regardless of your age, good relationships with friends, family, and even pets, were found to be universally important. Activities associated with those relationships contributed most to a person’s happiness. The most significant activity was kissing or hugging someone you love.  Other activities included: watching your children grandchildren or close relative succeed; being told you are a person who can be trusted or relied upon; spending time with your family or friends such as a meal or social gathering; and finally, experiencing a special moment with a child. 

            Researchers say that relationships with family pets were especially important to women, singles and older individuals.  However, relationships did have to be real: “connecting with friends or family on a social media site like Facebook” came in 37th out of 38 activities in contributing to happiness. Importantly, none of the top contributors require a lot of money to achieve; they are “simple pleasures” that can be had by all.

 Good Health Linked to Happiness 

          Without good health, it is far more difficult to achieve happiness: people in “good or excellent” health are three times more likely to report being “very” happy, the researchers say.  However, one’s health may be more a state of mind than objective reality.  The findings noted that the percentage of those reporting good health is relatively stable over the ages 35 to 80, varying only seven percentage points, even as reported chronic or serious medical conditions increase 400% in the same age range. 

Calling the Shots, Brings Happiness

          The majority of those surveyed feel they have control over their personal level of happiness. Interestingly, this sense of control increases with age. Moreover, people who feel in control are clearly happier—reporting that they are 2.5 times happier than those who believe happiness is out of their control. The study’s findings indicate that a sense of control is linked to higher income, higher education, good health and the lack of having experienced a major life event in the past year.

Money Does Not Always Guarantee Happiness

            While many will say having money can bring happiness, this research study showed that it seems that how one spends it seems to matter more.  Happiness increases with income and conversely, lack of financial resources was tied to unhappiness. While less than a third of participants said money contributed to happiness, when asked how they would spend $100 on something to increase happiness, most respondents said they would spend it on their family or going out to dinner. Money is only a resource, that when applied to meaningful areas of one’s life, can provide experiences that can increase happiness.

         Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.