Born in December 1949, I’m an early wave Baby Boomer, part of the vast cohort born between 1946 (when my parents had their first child) and 1964 (when the last sib in our family turned 5).
Part of me gets that I’m now old. But the other part of me…
I’m still taken aback when I hear someone on the news referring to a person my age as elderly. Elderly? Who you calling elderly? That’s a fightin’ word, youngster.
The Economist had a recent special section “The new old.” The first illustration was a photo of The Stones. First off, these dudes aren’t Boomers. Both Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were born in1943. The Mick, in fact, turns 74 today. I also have to say that both of these bad boys look pre-cadaverous. Too many drugs in their sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll mix, I’m afraid. Yet it’s still admirable that they’re still rockin’, lunch pail performers still looking for a payday.
And while their paydays are larger than those of most of us seniors still working, there are plenty of golden agers still out there. Some plugging away by choice, some by necessity. Good thing, given that the longer we work, the more we contribute to the economy and the less of a drag we are on the young folks. What you want to do is keep a nice healthy ratio between geezers and workers – tougher to do, given that lifespans have increased so dramatically.
As the world greys, growth, tax revenues and workforces will decline while spending on pensions and health care will increase. So, at least, goes the orthodoxy.
Doom-mongers tend to miss a bigger point, however. Those extra years of life are predominantly healthy ones. Five of the additional six years that a British boy born in 2015 can expect to live, compared with one born in 1990, will be healthy, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, at the University of Washington. Too many governments and firms fail to recognise this fact, instead lumping all the extra years in the damning category of 65 and over. This binary way of thinking, seeing retirement as a cliff edge over which workers and consumers suddenly tumble, bears little relation to the real world. It also encourages unimaginative policy, whereby the retirement age is occasionally moved as lifespans lengthen. (Source: The Economist)
The Economist makes an argument that, to remedy this, we need to stop lumping everyone over 65 in the one-step-from-the-grave category, and carve out a new brand-name for those of us over 65 but under real old age. (Whatever real old age is. Look to the Boomers to keep pushing that up. I suspect that by the time I’m 80, old age will start at 90. Or 100.)
Branding an age category might sound like a frivolous exercise. But life stages are primarily social constructs, and history shows that their emergence can trigger deep changes in attitudes. Such change is needed if the questions that swirl around rising longevity are to get a fitting answer.
So, they’ve come up with a few suggestions for what to name the baby(boomer). Geriactives is mentioned but discarded: sounds too shuffle-boardy and senior village. (“Welcome to Paradise Hills, where we put the ‘active’ in ‘geriactive.”) Then there’s nightcappers, which The Economist thinks sounds patronizing, but which I think sounds boozy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
Perhaps “Nyppies” (Not Yet Past It) or “Owls” (Older, Working Less, Still earning) ring truer.
By their description, I’m an owl. But I rather like the sound of nyppie, even though Nippy was the name of a neighborhood dog (beagle, owned by the FitzGibbons, and, yes, the dog was nippy) of my childhood. (The FitzGibbons had a way with dog naming. They later had a shepherd called Rasputin.)
So, nyppie. We used to be yuppies. Nyppies seems to suit.
Anyway, I do think it makes sense to come up with some sort of catchy name for us. Forget golden ager, senior citizen, old fogey. I may be kidding myself, but none of those seem to apply. I’m all for something a bit less geezerish. (And for the older set, maybe something a bit less judgmental than senior citizen and old fogey. Revered elder might work.)
Marking out youthful old age as a distinct phase of life might have a similar effect [similar to the creation of the idea of “teen-ager,” which occurred in the 1940’s], prodding employers and policymakers to think differently about how to keep the young old active. As life becomes longer, the word “retirement”, which literally means withdrawal to a place of seclusion, has become misleading. At 65 you are not clapped out, but pre-tired. So, as they embark on the next stage, here’s to all those pre-tirees.
Seems like only yesterday my friends and I were heading to the movies to watch the howlingly ridiculous late 1960’s flick, Wild in the Streets. I don’t remember the full plot, but one of the themes was getting the vote into the hands of kids. The battle cry was ‘Fourteen or Fight.” And I think that everyone over 30 was farmed out to some blissed out geezer-farm where they could spend all their time tripping on acid. Or something like that. After all, we were the folks muttering ‘don’t trust anyone over 30.’ Best to keep them out of their gourds, no?
Hope the millennials don’t decide to remake Wild in the Streets. I’d hate to see what they’d have in store for us.
Meanwhile, I’m down with The Economist’s idea to just give us a brand new brand name.