It's Not All Downhill for Boomer Retirees

You’ve seen the commercials: hippie vans, long flowing hair, Woodstock music and rhetoric about “the generation that swore it would never grow old.” As members of the postwar cohort head into their 60s and beyond, marketers are portraying them as free spirits who are set to defy the stereotypes of old age. “It’s been said that the [baby] boomers have reinvented every stage of their lives and they will reinvent retirement,” says Bill Novelli, head of the AARP. “But we don’t know yet. They may not do things exactly as their parents did, but right now the jury is still out about what they will do.” Novelli’s group, and many others, have boomers under their microscope and are starting to see ways in which this generation will be different. Here’s what they are finding.

Boomers will retire later than their parents did. That was true even before the Wall Street wipeout. Fewer than half of the first boomers eligible to claim Social Security benefits at 62 have done so; a generation earlier, 62 percent of women and 51 percent of men claimed those benefits as soon as they could. The vast majority of boomers see themselves cycling back and forth between periods of work and leisure for most of their 60s, according to a study by Age Wave, a San Francisco demographics-research firm.

They will be more likely to move. Roughly 10 percent of baby-boomer parents, often called “the Silent Generation,” moved to another state after they retired. That figure has climbed to 15 percent for the first wave of 60-something boomers. “Ultimately, it will be 20 percent or more,” says Gene Warren of Thomas, Warren & Associates, a Phoenix market-research firm. Others will retire abroad, to south of-the-border spots like Panama and Costa Rica, where they can stretch their dollars.

They aren t going to want mom s condo in Boca. Early-wave boomers are not following their parents to sunny spots like Florida and Arizona. Instead, they are more focused on communities, college towns and small cities that afford them access to physical activity and cultural events, says Nanette Overly, a vice president at condo developer Epcon Communities. Her company is building developments in Savannah, Ga.; and Chapel Hill, Raleigh-Durham and Asheville, N.C.. Warren says he’s seeing a new generation flock to northern areas that offer more outdoor-recreation opportunities, like Eagle River, Wis., and Hamilton, Mont.

They ll spend more time caregiving. Perhaps unsurprising for a generation that hovered over its own young-adult kids, boomers expect to stick close to family; moving—if they have to—so they can be hands-on grandparents, says Novelli, who lives next door to his own grandchildren. They’ll also care for aging parents longer than their parents did.

They re wealthier. On average, baby boomers are healthier, wealthier and more educated as they head into their retirement years than their parents were, even after October’s stock-market meltdown. That means there will be enough variety in their choices to turn even the less taken roads into major retirement trends over the next 20 years.

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