We’re told we’re of the boomer generation — the demographic segment nostalgic for music of the 60’s, shaped by civil rights and the Vietnam War, purported to have changed the world, about to retire, and convinced it will never grow old. But many in my age cohort (I’m 50) don’t pine for the Beatles or identify with the silver-haired, beach-walking couples so prevalent in advertising aimed at us. We’re in the heart of our careers, the nest is just starting to empty, and we’re caring for our aging parents. We were shaped by watching Watergate unfold on television and waiting in gas lines. We claim neither the idealism of the boomers nor the cynicism attributed to the Generation X’ers behind us. We’ve got a pragmatic and practical streak. I hope we’re applying it to aging.
We, the later half of boomers, have been given a name: Generation Jones. Born between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s, you don’t hear much about the Jones cohort. Yet, we outnumber all other Boomers and Generation X. Jonathan Pontell, who coined “Generation Jones,” describes it as a large, anonymous generation with unfulfilled expectations. Indeed, we’re used to being overlooked – the tag-along kid sisters and brothers of the boomers – and perhaps we’ve come to like it that way. But here we are at our midcentury mark, and we have an opportunity to step out and make a difference.
The crest of the age wave
And we must, whether motivated by pursuit of the greater good or pure self-interest. Generation Jones is the crest of the population age wave. We personify its biggest challenges and are especially vulnerable to the potential insecurities when the wave hits the shore. Health-care costs continue to escalate, and Medicare is in a precarious position. Professional care-giving work force shortages loom ahead. Dispersed families and the increasing prevalence of single-person households have implications for how informal care is provided in the future. How we approach aging matters.
So, Jonesers, how will our perspective shape our own aging and that of the community around us? I think there’s reason to be optimistic about our contribution, and here’s why:
1. We’re learning from others’ experiences. Observing our parents’ aging, often in the role of their caregiver, is giving many of us an unobstructed view of life at 80 and beyond. This front-row seat is uncomfortable to sit in at times, but nevertheless it’s an opportunity to learn, make note of what we want to copy, what we hope to avoid, and how we might prepare differently. I believe it will help us honestly assess our future needs.
2. We’re talking about it. Matters of aging and elder caregiving are the peer discussion topics of our time. Friends are talking about whether to buy long-term care insurance. They’re saying their parents’ assisted living setting isn’t the lifestyle they will want. They’re wondering what retirement will be like as midlife unemployment takes its toll on savings, and musing about aging services as potential business opportunities. These conversations inform and equip us to cut through the tall grass of personal worry and forge a new path out in the open for all to see and hear about. Unprecedented amounts of information and personal experiences are being shared, and I sense in this age group a pent-up restlessness to turn our talk into action on aging concerns.
3. It’s not too late. Jonesers have time to prepare. We can examine how our finances are shaping up and what accommodations we need to make. We can consider the future living environment we hope for and start to shape those dreams. We can attend to our physical and emotional health, take stock of how we’re engaged in our communities, and find ways to best contribute. We can nurture our family and friend relationships and create the support networks we’ll need. We can use our political clout and leadership roles to foster the sustainability of social insurance and safety net systems needed by all generations. This cohort is in the enviable position of being close enough to get a glimpse of future needs and having time to make course corrections with an eye toward creating a good old age.
4. We can embrace aging. Each generation develops its own reputation for moving through life stages. Jonesers can choose to reject denial of aging, and the ageism it perpetuates, and instead appreciate it as a universally shared experience. Growing older is happening to everyone, no matter what their current age. Knowing that aging is not only inevitable but also good, we can demonstrate a clear-eyed, straightforward, pragmatic and positive approach. Building on the youthful activism of our older boomer cousins, Generation Jones can create a realistic and stable stage for our younger Gen X relations.
What do you think, fellow 50-somethings? Will we learn from our caregiving experiences and watching those before us? Will we influence policy improvements and model changes in attitude that lead the way for honest and positive aging? What’s the stamp we’ll put on the aging experience?
Let’s not be overshadowed on this one. I’m jonesin’ for us to make our mark.
Beth Wiggins’ career has been devoted to the field of aging, primarily in the development and delivery of community-based long-term care services, advancing innovations in caregiver support, and building collaborative approaches to organizational and systems challenges. She lives in Minneapolis.
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