December 17, 2015
Search “baby boomers” and “top concerns” online, and two things will lead the results: money and health.
The first wave of baby boomers, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, will turn 70 in 2016. Though not the dominant generation in the United States anymore population-wise (Millenials overtook the baby boomers this year), the country’s 75 million baby boomers remain a vital part of every aspect of American life from religion to the economy. With the youngest boomers in their early 50s, their influence and impact are sure to remain strong into the next three decades.
Analysts have long predicted that the aging of the baby boomers would create new concerns in the American economy, making an impact on everything from Social Security to health care. Those predictions now reflect the worries that many baby boomers express about their lives today.
Health care plans
Choosing the right health care plan and supplemental policies is a big source of frustration, especially for those transitioning from employment to retirement. That’s what happened when Martha, whose husband recently retired and became Medicare eligible, began to research options apart from the insurance offered by her employer.
“It’s all so confusing — Medicare, Part B, Part D,” she said.
Martha is not alone. A 2014 report by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS) found that few American employees nearing retirement have a strong understanding of the government benefits they will be eligible for when they retire. According to the study, only 17 percent of baby boomers responded that they knew “a great deal” about their Social Security benefits and only 13 percent reported confidence in their knowledge of Medicare benefits. Failing to make the right pre-retirement choices can have an impact long into the future, according to Catherine Collinson, president of TCRS and author of the study.
“Decisions about these benefits can have lifelong impacts and it is important for pre-retirees to make educated choices,” Collinson wrote.
The close connection between finances and health care weighs on Gina, a pastor’s wife in Alabama.
“I have health issues, and the changes in insurance and medical care are a tremendous challenge at this point in my life,” she said. “I never expected that out-of-pocket expenses would triple and in some situations quadruple.”
Kathy, a retired nurse and recent widow, fears that her assets might not be enough to allow her to feel secure throughout her life.
“I think I’ll be okay, particularly as I live a modest lifestyle,” she said. “But it is unknowable.”
Perhaps in part because of worries about their financial future, many boomers are staying in the workforce much longer than they anticipated.
The Great Recession of 2007–2009 hit the retirement savings of many boomers hard, according to Pew Research Center. A Pew study taken in 2009 found that more than half of adults age 50–64 at the time expected to delay retirement and another 16 percent said they never expected to stop working.
The TCRS study found that many baby boomers plan to extend their working lives past 65 and most are seeking a “more flexible, phased transition into retirement.”
Sixty-two percent of boomers polled in the study who said they plan to work past age 65 indicated their main reason is income or health benefits. The reasons are not just financial though. Thirty-four percent plan to continue working for enjoyment, either because they like what they do or because they want to stay active and involved. If possible, more than two-thirds of those surveyed hope to either keep working full-time or to transition to a less demanding job or one that requires fewer hours.
Flexibility means more time to enjoy leisure activities, among which travel tops the list for most boomers.
Gina said, “I love the times we can just pick up and go on a whim — or as much of a whim as a pastor has.”
In a May 2014 blog post, LifeWay President Thom Rainer said the boomers’ desire to travel will be one of the primary implications for churches in the future.
“Some of our churches’ most faithful attendees will be conspicuously absent as they have this new discretionary time. They will be traveling for pleasure, visiting grandchildren and traveling to places where they believe they can make a difference,” Rainer wrote.
The potential to combine travel with missions opportunities may be one way churches can keep baby boomers engaged, Rainer suggested.
“Many of these boomers will continue to seek atypical retirement opportunities,” he wrote. “They still have the spirit of the 60s, a spirit that desires to be different and to make a difference. If congregations can offer retiring boomers such opportunities, there could be a surge of boomer church adherents.”
In Southern Baptist Convention life, such missions opportunities abound. For example disaster relief and construction ministries are largely staffed by adults over 50. The International Mission Board’s Masters program offers adults 50 and older an opportunity to use their life experiences, skills and wisdom on the missions field, partnering with other career and short-term missionaries to evangelize the lost. Many churches continue to see active participation by older adults in the ministry and missions of the local church. Keeping older adults engaged will require an intentional effort, however.
Opportunity for churches
Amy Hanson, author of the article “Creating New Opportunities For Older Adults to Serve: 50+ Age Adults Reaching Outside the Walls of the Church,” writes, “Today’s church has an opportunity to show the world that age does not have to be a limitation.”
“Some churches have neglected to see their older adults as valuable resources full of life experience and wisdom and instead they have bought into the world’s lie that once someone reaches a particular age they should ‘slow down’ and ‘let the younger people take over.’ It takes effort and in some cases a shift in attitude to build an outwardly focused older adult ministry,” Hanson writes.
Even as they contemplate life and work beyond the traditional retirement years, many baby boomers express great joy in seeing the fruits of faith in their families. They see nurturing faith in younger generations as part of their continuing mission.
Jennifer, a younger boomer who balances work and family responsibilities, said, “What excites me most is seeing my children having children, knowing bits of my past family carries on through the generations and being able to tell my grandchildren about their grandparents and great-grandparents.
“At the same time, I wonder if I am listening to Christ closely enough, praying hard enough and being still long enough to do what He wants and not what the world yells for.”
Donna, a recently retired boomer with a young teen daughter and two adult children, enjoys seeing her children working toward independence.
“It’s exciting to watch my children use the life skills they were taught at home, to see the moral goodness they display daily and to witness the strength they show as they struggle through the daily decisions they must make,” she said. “What’s really wonderful is knowing they made the choice to accept Jesus as their Savior.”
Leaving an inheritance
Tempered with joy also is anxiety about the future, not just for themselves but for their children and grandchildren.
“What concerns me daily is the thought of what my children and future grandchildren are going to inherit as the world is turning uglier and uglier each day that passes,” Donna said.
Kathy said, “The state of our nation is one of my biggest concerns. I can hardly believe how vulnerable the U.S. has become. Ironically I am encouraged by my pessimism. It seems what every generation of old folks do. I hope I am like the previous oldsters and worrying in vain.”
Making the most of your days
Few people look forward to growing older, and baby boomers as a generation have sought to re-examine what age really means. A 2009 Pew Research study found that the older people get, the younger they feel. Among adults 65 and older, 60 percent said they felt younger than their age, with 1 in 6 respondents saying they felt “at least 20 years younger than their actual age.”
As the baby boomers enter the second halves of their lives they will face many changes, including decisions that affect their faith, relationships, finances, health and legacy.
The following resources, all available from LifeWay and other booksellers, address these life issues from a Christian perspective.
- Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging by J.I. Packer (Crossway, 2014)
- The Smart Woman’s Guide to Planning for Retirement: How to Save for Your Future Today by Mary Hunt (Revell, 2013)
- The Second-Half Adventure: Don’t Just Retire — Use Your Time, Skills and Resources to Change the World by Kay Marshall Strom (Moody, 2009)
- Boomers on the Edge: Three Realities That Will Change Your Life Forever by Terry Hargrave (Zondervan, 2008)
- Rethinking Retirement: Finishing Life for the Glory of Christ by John Piper (Crossway, 2009)