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What Leading-Edge Boomers About Their Lives

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Most baby boomers turning 62 in 2008 say they are either retired or will be fully retired by age 65, according to a new report from MetLife profiling the oldest boomers.

The leading edge of the boomer generation is comprised of the first 2.9 million members of the 77 million boomer cohort, MetLife notes.

Most boomers in this group say they will collect Social Security by age 65, that they’ve been married only once and have 2.4 children on average, the report found.

Of those who have children, 78% have grandchildren. In all, 66% of those surveyed have grandchildren.

Those born in 1946 were 17 years old in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and turned 18 the next year, the start of the escalation of the Vietnam conflict. Their 21st birthdays were in 1967, the year of the “summer of love,” and just before the political turmoil of 1968.

Yet contrary to what might be expected of people who became young adults in the political and social turmoil of the 1960s, conservatives outnumber liberals by 2-1 in this population, MetLife found.

“The group is very much like the ‘Silent Generation’ that preceded them,” says Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute, Westport, Conn., which conducted the profile, “Boomers Ready to Launch.”

The study found these oldest boomers have conventional lifestyles, Timmerman reports. For example, most stayed with one spouse and had the standard 2 kids.

“They really are more like Ward and June Cleaver than we may have thought,” Timmerman says, noting that only 2% of these oldest boomers say they were at the Woodstock Festival of 1969, when they would have been about 23.

MetLife found 45% of people born in 1946 liked the term “baby boomer,” and another 38% were somewhat in favor of it, while 17% didn’t like it.

As for the term ‘”retirement,” 52% liked it, 31% liked it somewhat and 18% didn’t like it.

“On average, as far as they’re concerned, they’re not really going to be ‘old’ for another 17 years,” says Timmermann. “All in all, this is a fairly affluent group who remain in good health with a lot more left to give.”

In fact, 77% of boomers born in 1946 say they are in good to excellent health. Excluding their homes, their net worth averages $257,800 and their average annual income is around $71,400, MetLife found. They are empty nesters–less than 20% who had children still have any living with them. But 8% of those who have grandchildren do have one or more grandchild with them.

On average, the age at which they would describe themselves as “old” is 78, although their health status was a deciding factor. Those in excellent health said they’ll be old at 83, while those in poor health put that age at 74.

The most popular words they use to describe the best things about being 62 are “retirement” and “not having to work,” and the worst words are “old age” and “health problems.”

Politically, 44% of these baby boomers reported that they were and remain conservative; 20% said they were more liberal when young and have become more conservative since their 20s. Twenty-two percent say they have remained liberal, while 15% say they were more conservative and have become more liberal since their younger days.

These boomers generally think they have done a good-to-excellent job contributing to their communities, and 83% believe they were good to excellent at providing for their spouses’ and children’s needs.

Providing for their own post-retirement needs was a different matter. MetLife found 54% acknowledged doing only a poor to fair job of ensuring that they have adequate coverage for their own long term care needs.

Many are well educated, with 45% having an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

The survey found 69% had no living parents, while only 5% had both parents still living, and 27% have one living parent.

As for eldercare responsibility, 87% said neither they nor their spouse are caregivers to elderly parents or relatives right now. Of those who are caregivers, 16% provided care for more than 20 hours a week, with an average of 9.5 hours.

The study found 35% have received an inheritance, averaging $113,000. Another 38% expected an inheritance averaging $210,000.

When asked to use one word to explain the best aspect of being 62, respondents answered: retirement or being close to retirement, being alive, freedom, health, Social Security, wisdom and independence. As one person put it, “I’m glad to be on the planet, rather than in it.”

As for the worst aspects of being 62, respondents overwhelmingly answered illness, followed by disability, wrinkles, aches and pains, discrimination, under-appreciation, memory loss, mortality and generally getting older.

Members of the group who say they will take Social Security at age 62 reasoned that they feel they’re entitled and would rather have the money than let the government have it. They believe in general that it’s in their financial interest to take Social Security sooner, while some said they needed the money right now or that they feared there would be nothing left in the system if they waited.

Timmermann says the study suggests older boomers might need advisors’ help in deciding whether to take Social Security benefits early and, if so, how to invest it.

“Some may not be aware they are not fully eligible for these benefits until age 66, and the advisor may want to make them aware of that,” Timmermann says.

Also, many approaching retirement are more likely to live to 100 than earlier cohorts. With the possibility of living another 40 years in retirement, the advisor might want to propose to some clients working a few years longer, depending on their projected retirement earnings.

“They may work for income for a few more years,” she says. “There’s Medicare, too: Someone may be so eager to retire they may not realize they won’t have health benefits until 65, and that could be a mistake.

“Advisors should also build on what people want to do in retirement, how they want to spend their time, what would get them up in the morning,” she says.

Retirement, she adds, is “an exciting time, but for some people, it can be a scary time. Advisors can help them figure out their dreams and work to figure out how they can fulfill them.”


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