The 79 million boomers alive today make up over a quarter of the entire American population. Last year, the oldest members of the generation turned 65. For the next 18 years, 10,000 boomers will turn 65 each day, according to the Pew Research Center. Today, the average life expectancy for women in America is 81 years old. For men, it is 76 years old. According to Gallup, the expected retirement age in the United States is 67. So, as Boomers enter into the retirement that precedes the end of their lives, will they find meaning and satisfaction as they age? Will they thrive, flourish, take a slow ride off into the sunset?
This is an enormously important question not just because of the implications it has on the happiness of real people, but also for the consequences it will have on society, social services, and our culture as a whole. As Pew points out, “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.”
The baby boomers are becoming characterized by startlingly high rates of depression and pessimism. Boomers are more depressed and less satisfied with their lives than both those who are older and younger than them, according to a study published in the American Sociological Review in 2008.
Women, in particular, are suffering. In the American population generally, women tend to be more depressive than men, and this is true of the boomers as well. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 1999 and 2004, rates of suicide increased by 20 percent for 45-to-54-year-olds, a far greater increase than that experienced in nearly every other age group. Among women who were 45-to-54-year-olds, the increase was a staggering 31 percent. Suicide aside, boomers have found another way to cope with their doldrums: according to the National Institute of Health, between 2002 and 2011, the number of illicit drugs users aged 50 to 59 tripled.
What is going on? This is a generation that is better educated, more successful, and has better access to health care than the generations that directly preceded it. This is the generation whose women benefitted from the gains of second wave feminism.
Experts on aging, depression, and happiness are at a loss for what is causing the boomers’ funk. One explanation is stress. “Much of the research is pointing to daily stress as a precipitator of their depression,” according to Donald A. Malone, Jr., the director of the Mood and Anxiety Clinic in the department of psychiatry and psychology at the Cleveland Clinic.
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