The iconic image of the Baby Boom generation is a 1960s-era snapshot of an exuberant, long-haired, rebellious young adult. That portrait wasn’t entirely accurate even then, but it’s hopelessly out of date now, according to the Pew Research Center. This famously huge cohort of Americans finds itself in a funk as it approaches old age.
On Jan. 1, 2011, the oldest Baby Boomers will turn 65. Every day for the next 19 years, about 10,000 more will cross that threshold. By 2030, when all Baby Boomers will have turned 65, fully 18 percent of the nation’s population will be at least that age, according to Pew Research Center population projections. Today, just 13 percent of Americans are ages 65 and older.
Perched on the front stoop of old age, Baby Boomers are more downbeat than other age groups about the trajectory of their own lives and about the direction of the nation as a whole.
Some of this pessimism is related to life cycle — for most people, middle age is the most demanding and stressful time of life. Some of the gloominess, however, appears to be particular to Boomers, who bounded onto the national stage in the 1960s with high hopes for remaking society, but who’ve spent most of their adulthood trailing other age cohorts in overall life satisfaction.
At the moment, the Baby Boomers are pretty glum. Fully 80 percent say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country today, compared with 60 percent of those ages 18 to 29 (Millennials); 69 percent of those ages 30 to 45 (Generation Xers) and 76 percent of those 65 and older (the Silent and Greatest Generations), according to a Pew Research Center survey taken earlier this month.
Boomers are also more downbeat than other adults about the long-term trajectory of their lives — and their children’s. Some 21 percent say their own standard of living is lower than their parents’ was at the age they are now; among all non-Boomer adults, just 14 percent feel this way, according to a May 2010 Pew Research survey. The same survey found that 34 percent of Boomers believe their own children will not enjoy as good a standard of living as they themselves have now; by contrast, just 21 percent of non-Boomers say the same.
The 79 million member Baby Boomer generation accounts for 26 percent of the total U.S. population. By force of numbers alone, they almost certainly will redefine old age in America, just as they’ve made their mark on teen culture, young adult life and middle age.