By Janet Novack
There’s good news and bad news for baby boomers.
The good news is that despite concerns about meager retirement savings, baby boomers aren’t going to have to work into old age. The catch is, they’ll have to pull off that trick by redefining what’s “old.”
Each year, in celebration of the birthday of Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, the Marist Poll asks whether he’s “old.” This year, only 27% of those surveyed said that Miringoff, who just turned 65, is “old,” 60% said he’s “middle-aged,” and 13% called him “young.” Last year, when he was turning 64, 28% considered it old, 59% middle aged, and the same delusional 13% said he was young.
How is it that now that Miringoff is a year older, fewer folks consider him old?
A closer look at the answers offered by each age group shows what’s at work. As they age, the boomers are understandably defining up what old is. And rightly so; the “Boss” turned 67 in September. (Forget Sir Paul and Sir Mick—at 74 and 73, they’re officially too old to be boomers. Boomers are those born from 1946 to 1964.)
“We’re a mutual protection society,’’ Miringoff quipped of his generation’s recent tendency to redefine old.
In Marist’s poll of 1,212 adults, conducted last month, just 11% of respondents 60 and older and 19% of those 45 to 59 called 63 “old,” while 47% of Millennials did. In fact, a full 26% of those 60 plus called 63 “young,’’ compared to 13% of those 45 to 59 and 5% of Millenials.
Of course it’s a good thing that boomers are raising the bar for old, since it’s helping them to reset their expectations about how long they’ll work. While people, on average, think they’ll retire later than they actually do, both expected and actual retirement ages have been climbing.
A decade ago, Americans told Gallup they expected to retire at 63, and the average age at which the already retired said they had quit work was 59. Since then, the expected retirement age has climbed to 66 and Gallup reported this week that the average age at which current retirees said they stopped working was 62, the highest since it started asking that question in 1991. Indeed, according to calculations by MIT Economics Prof James Poterba, much of the average increased life expectancy at 65 is actually being spent in extra years of work, not retirement.
People’s definition of old also, no doubt, has something to do with their own life expectancy. Only 21% of women, compared to 33% of men, called 63 “old,” in the Marist Poll. As for Miringoff, he doesn’t feel old and still stays up until 3 A.M. working on polls. “I can still do it. It just hurts a lot more the next morning than it used to,’’ he says.
The bad news? There’s no denying the march of time and, ultimately, the Grim Reaper. In fact, life expectancy is leveling off worldwide and it actually decreased last year in the U.S.