Boomers and Beyond
One out of every three adults in America is a Boomer. As of 2012, America's 50 and older population had reached 100 million!
But 50 years of age no longer means what it once did. Life expectancies have increased, leading many to feel younger and more capable than their chronological age might have once implied.
As the first generation to have these bonus years, Boomers are re-defining the meaning and purpose of the decades between middle and late life. An entirely new life stage is emerging in which traditional models of retirement and services to seniors are being replaced by new models of engagement – including encore careers, community service, and lifelong learning. Interestingly, Generation X and Y are also showing signs that they've adopted the Boomers' outlook on old age. So developing new outreach and new ways of looking at services to Boomers could establish library strategies for generations to come.
Why does increased longevity matter?
Our current mental constructs of aging no longer match the reality of aging because aging itself is changing – because life expectancies have so dramatically increased over the last century. In addition, people aren't just living longer, they're living better. Many Boomers (and other generations as they age) will have 25-30 more years of productive living ahead, not limited by illness or disability!
If Boomers can be engaged to use these productive years giving back to their communities – by contributing their time, skills, passions and financial resources – they could prove to be a social resource of unprecedented proportions. Unfortunately, according to organizations that have been tracking Boomer trends for years, neither the public or the private sectors have fully realized the opportunity this group of multi-faceted older adults represents nor have they built the necessary strategies and capacities to effectively serve and engage them.
Public libraries have the potential to become cornerstone institutions for productive aging, but they too will need to develop new strategies to better serve and engage older adults. To support library staff in re-thinking their mental models about aging, we've identifited eight Midlife Trends, with insights about each trend and its relevance to Boomers and other mid-life adults. These trends are expected to outlast the Boomers, with relevance as well to future generations – who will also be living longer and seeking new approaches to aging.