Baby Boomers around the world are confronting their own mortality with characteristic displays of individuality, writes Malcolm King for AdelaideNow in Australia.
The nostalgia industry is gearing up in Australia as Paul Simon, Santana, Carole King and the Steve Miller Band play at a hall or leafy winery near you.
FM easy listening stations across the nation are cranking out Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Rolling Stones and other superannuated acts, as the Boomers, like the Roman God Janus, look back over their lives while pondering the future.
The sixth decade is an interesting time for the post-war generation.
Since World War II, medical science has added 25 years on average to their lifespan, but many are asking, “What’s next?”
The government of Australia is anxious to see Baby Boomers working longer because of the pressures they are placing on the nation’s finances as many reach pension age.
While it is nice to go all warm and fuzzy about yesteryear, the reality is that the music provides Baby Boomers with a second and less welcome thought – that time is not on their side. Death, where is Sting?
For many Boomers, it is a time to reconsider what has been sacrificed for a career and what has been left behind for the sake of raising a family.
Those Boomers who successfully integrate and resolve past tensions with present realities may find a second wind and venture off into new pursuits such as studying, renovating houses or cars, travelling or embarking on a new career.
They have gained insights in to themselves. Others have set their sights on immortality.
These are the Super Boomers.
They swim five kilometres a day and bench press 150 kilos. They use yoga and Pilates like Bruce Lee used martial arts to teach baddies a lesson. They don’t eat pies or drink beer. They eat grains and yoghurt.
These boomers are buffed. Their quest is to recapture the physical vitality of their teenage years.
There is something laudable about such discipline, but Super Boomers haven’t got time for praise. They are too busy working out.
To the Super Boomer old age is kryptonite. Life is a constant battle against the signs of ageing.
The concept of “active ageing” is gaining momentum across corporate Australia. Forward-thinking organisations are changing their workplace agreements to ensure older workers have access to lifelong learning programs, mentorship initiatives and financial planning.
However there is a downside to the active ageing concept.
I came from a generation of farmers who worked until they dropped. My grandfather retired in his late 60s and then got a part-time job working in a bottle shop. He needed the money. As a practising alcoholic, it was befitting that he worked in his twilight years in the midst of what he loved.
Few manual labourers or production line workers in their 60s will want to spend another five or 10 years doing the same job. They went to work listening to The Beatles and paid the house off to a soundtrack of Cold Chisel. They don’t have the inclination or physical ability to “pump iron”.
Manufacturing will lose about 261,000 workers to retirement – that’s a quarter of its workforce – before they reach 65.
According to the ABS, between 2010-2050, the number of Australians aged 85 and over is projected to quadruple to nearly 1.8 million people. Australia is turning into a low-security old-age home.
Old age conjures images of incontinence, decrepitude and losing one’s marbles. Yet immunologists and neuroscientists over the next 30 years will reduce the severity of cancers, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
We will not only live longer but the debilitating effects of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease will be greatly reduced – some say cured.
The post-war generation’s push for immortality is getting help from the US.
Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, gave $3.5 million in 2006 to the Methuselah Foundation, which is working on life-extension therapies. And more recently Thiel invested monies in Halcyon Molecular, a biotech start-up that aims to create a world free from cancer and ageing.
“Probably the most extreme form of inequality is between people who are alive and people who are dead,” Mr Thiel told The New Yorker.
Actually, the most extreme form of inequality is between those who have more dollars than sense and those who have plenty of sense but no dollars.
So as you walk along the beach this summer or dally beside your local pool, spare a thought for the ageing Boomer sprawled either like Adonis or whale-like on a towel.
This may be the summer of love for the grandkids, but grandma and grandpa won’t easily let them forget how fantastic it was when love was free and petrol was cheap.
Malcolm King works in the area of generational change in Australia and SE Asia.