- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

The generation that once dreaded turning 30 may become a national role model for productive aging, according to a report released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

Grandpa and Granny simply ain’t what they used to be.

“The baby boomers, the first of whom celebrate their 60th birthdays in 2006, promise to redefine further what it means to grow older in America,” the report stated.

Based on a massive analysis of statistics, both agencies have determined that older Americans are destined to live longer and be more affluent, more functional, better educated and less disabled than their predecessors.

In 1950, for example, 17 percent of senior citizens had a high school diploma and 3 percent had a bachelor’s degree. In 2003, the numbers rose to 72 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

As various lifestyle, health and financial factors improve, it will ultimately culminate in a “higher standard of retirement” for the colorful demographic once famous for producing Jimi Hendrix, flower power and college sit-ins.

“This report tells us that we have made a lot of progress in improving the health and well-being of older Americans, but there is much left to do,” said NIA’s director, Dr. Richard Hodes.

“The social and economic implications of an aging population — and of the baby boom in particular — are likely to be profound for both individuals and society,” said Louis Kincannon, director of the Census Bureau.

Indeed, both agencies are now preoccupied with preparing public policies to accommodate aging boomers.

There will be plenty of them.

The U.S. population older than 65 will double in size in the next quarter-century to 72 million; by 2030, nearly one in five Americans will be a senior citizen — at least in years.

With vintage rocker Mick Jagger still touring at 62, perceptions of what’s “old” are also changing. “Many people have an image of aging that may be 20 years too late,” observed Richard Suzman, director of NIA’s behavioral and social research program.

The culture is already re-examining so-called “geezerhood.”

Last year, a New Yorker cartoon waggishly proclaimed “70 is the new 50.” But CBS News took the concept seriously enough to build a special report about it, honing in on contented, active seventysomethings who seem oblivious to increasing years.

Anti-aging medicine that explores the role of genetics, nutrition, environment and alternative medicines has found a place in major research and academic institutions; NIA itself has awarded a $2 million grant to the University of Arizona to determine the roots of happy, “resilient” aging.

The findings of the 254-page report (viewable at www.census.gov) were based on nine massive, national surveys; just one source — the American Community Survey — analyzed the domestic situation of close to 900,000 families.

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