Aging is not, as the cliché goes, for the faint of heart. If a woman makes it to 65, she can expect to live at least 20 more years. Three new books written by or about the elderly provide a wonderful roadmap to aging with grace, introspection, gratitude, and humor.
“Coming of Age: My Journey to the Eighties” by Madeleine May Kunin
The former Vermont governor and ambassador to Switzerland has authored books about politics, feminism, and women as leaders. In her new memoir, she has blossomed into an essayist and poet. Kunin, who is 85, muses about defying “death’s black raven” on her shoulder. The color red is one way to achieve this. She bought a Barcelona Red Prius (easier to find in the parking lot), and then she and her late husband, John, purchased two oversized red armchairs. “I wanted to bring life inside – not leave it outdoors. And the red chairs did exactly that,” she says.
In her poem, “I Loved You When You Did the Dishes,” she writes tenderly of John – first as a robust partner, then as a dependent, and always as “the man of my dreams.” Old age has given her permission to let down her guard, which she did not do as a public figure. Now she discloses private matters like thinning skin and her pain when, as a young legislator in the 1970s, male colleagues didn’t take her seriously. But she invariably looks back on her life with humor. Kunin tells one anecdote about ducking into a men’s bathroom to avoid the long line for the women’s room. A man who recognized her immediately said, “I never thought I’d meet the governor here.”
“Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age” by Mary Pipher
Early in her book, Pipher borrows a novelist’s words: “Old age transfigures or fossilizes.” Pipher, who is a psychologist, urges women to aim for transformation or “willing ourselves into a good new place.” The most important thing, she says, is to keep moving along, upriver – memory loss, muscle loss, and stereotypes be damned! Each chapter is a roadmap to that good place: Understanding Ourselves. Making Intentional Choices. Building a Good Day. Creating Community. Anchoring in Gratitude. In the chapter Crafting Resplendent Narratives, she advises readers dealing with difficult situations to “honor our pain and move toward something joyful.” …Learn More
Motherhood, career anxiety, menopause – women, throughout their lives, move from one psychological stressor to the next.
Well, ladies, there’s hope: your stress should start to ease around age 60.
With the #MeToo movement against workplace abuse of young adult women dominating the headlines, there’s a quieter movement of baby boomer women exploring what it means to get old. Book publishers are flocking to writers of self-actualization books like “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age” and “50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life.”
Perhaps publishers sense a market for these books because women of all ages suffer depression at rates two to four times higher than men. But a study in the journal Maturitas finds that many women shed their depression as they move from their mid-40s into their 60s.
To pinpoint individuals’ psychological changes over time, this study analyzed the group of women who participated in a telephone survey from beginning to end, 1992 to 2012.
The women, who live Melbourne, Australia, were asked a battery of questions to determine whether they were depressed – questions about whether they felt optimistic or discontented, socially engaged or lonely, impatient or cheerful, clear thinking or confused.
They were also asked whether they suffered from bad moods, which can be a precursor to depression. The researchers found that the women’s moods improved significantly as they aged. …Learn More
With more Americans today living into their 80s and beyond, the elderly are becoming more vulnerable to slipping into poverty.
To reduce the poverty risk facing the oldest retirees, some policy experts have proposed increasing Social Security benefits for everyone at age 85. Under one common proposal analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research in a new report, the current benefit at this age would increase by 5 percent.
The poverty rate for people over 85 is 12 percent, compared with 8 percent for new retirees. But more elderly people may actually be living on the edge, because the income levels that define poverty for them are so low: less than $11,757 for a single person and less than $14,817 for couples.
One reason the oldest retirees are especially vulnerable is that their medical expenses are rising as their health is deteriorating, yet they’re too old to defray the expense by working. This is occurring at the same time that the value of their employer pensions – if they have one – has been severely eroded by inflation after many years of retirement.
Further, elderly women are more likely to be poor than men, because wives usually outlive their husbands, which triggers a big drop in income that is generally not fully offset by a drop in their expenses.
Limiting the 5 percent benefit increase to the oldest retirees would ease poverty while containing the cost. …Learn More
Nearly 10 million seniors are having difficulty paying for housing – and the problem is growing.
Housing experts typically recommend that people keep their housing costs below a third of their income. But one in three Americans over age 65 are spending more than that on their rent or mortgage payment, utilities, property insurance, maintenance, and other housing costs, according to a new study, “Housing America’s Older Adults,” by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
If the senior housing problem hasn’t reached crisis proportions yet, Jennifer Molinsky, who wrote the center’s report, predicted that it will if nothing is done to increase the supply of housing structures that are both affordable and age-friendly to meet the needs of aging baby boomers. The number of households over 80 will more than double over the next 20 years, the housing center estimates.
“Unless we create more options for people at the middle- and lower-income levels, we are going to be seeing that people have fewer choices and that they’re forced into options they don’t want,” she said. …Learn More
“Seven Up,” a famous British documentary series, interviewed 7-year-old schoolchildren in 1964 and filmed them every seven years after that.
Over the documentary’s 49-year span, viewers watched the children’s lives take shape. A boy at an upper-crust boarding school goes to college and on to teach math at a prestigious private school. A girl educated in a working-class school in London’s East End is just able to make ends meet as an adult. A young equestrian from a wealthy family raises her own privileged children. A boy in an orphanage becomes a bricklayer.
These personal profiles at the heart of “Seven Up” reverberate in a recent, unrelated, academic study that has reached a similar conclusion: parents’ investment in educating their children is the ticket to financial security as an adult.
The researchers estimated that people with the college-educated fathers earned nearly $400,000 more over their lifetimes (at today’s pound-dollar exchange rate) than the people from less-educated families. They analyzed periodic surveys of 9,436 people in England, Scotland, and Wales between ages 7 and 55. …Learn More
My husband is newly retired, and we’ve spent hours talking about where we might want to live after I retire in a few years. Our imagined scenarios are always changing.
But I’m clear on one thing: I do not want to buy a house in Naples, Florida, where a couple we know did recently. No offense to Naples, which has lots to recommend it – no shoveling! But the typical resident is 65 years old. In fact, Naples is older than the state of Florida, where retirement communities are so pervasive that they distinguish between the “young-old” (ages 60-75) and the “old-old” (over 75).
Boston, where my husband and I live now, couldn’t be more different. It is swarming with college students and young people, including his two sons and daughter-in-law. Boston’s young people work in rapidly changing industries like high-tech or environmental engineering, and I like it that way. Boston’s median age is 32 – half of Naples.
As I get closer to retiring and am faced with change, I think to myself, “Who wants to live in the midst of a bunch of old people like me?”
But that’s precisely what many retirees do. There are many examples of cities that have moved dramatically in the direction of one or the other extremes – Boston or Naples; Madison, Wisconsin, or Scottsdale, Arizona. The Wall Street Journal reported that new retirement communities are popping up in places that weren’t traditional resting places for snowbirds: retired baby boomers’ net migration to the Appalachian region where Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee converge has quadrupled since 2011.
This age segregation is a relatively new area of interest to demographers. Almost 60 percent of the neighborhoods and other subdivisions within U.S. counties have moderate or high levels of segregation, which is similar in degree to the level of segregation between the U.S. Hispanic and white populations, Richelle Winkler found in a 2013 study of federal Census data.
Age segregation also occurs in rural areas, as younger people leave for jobs and older people move in. In some rural parts of the Great Plains, Winkler writes, there are two times more seniors than young adults. …Learn More
Walter Mischel, who used marshmallows to test children’s ability to delay gratification, died recently, but his lesson never grows old.
For those who aren’t familiar with his famous test, a young girl or boy sits at a table with a single marshmallow on a plate. The tester tells the child that he or she can eat the marshmallow right away, but waiting to eat it until the tester comes back into the room will bring a big payoff: a second sweet, puffy morsel.
Watching the children in this video squirm as they wrestle with their decisions brings to mind the adult equivalent. A desire for immediate self-gratification can come at the detriment of any number of personal financial decisions.
Like the marshmallow test, consuming now means having less money in the bank later. The test also applies to deciding when to retire. Retiring becomes extremely tempting for baby boomers who want to escape from work after decades in the labor force. But those who wait patiently for a few more years will have a sweeter retirement: a much larger Social Security check and more 401(k) savings distributed over fewer total years in retirement.
Children, when faced with the marshmallow test, struggle mightily to exercise self-control. They pick up the marshmallow to examine it, play with it, nibble it, and move it out of reach – but impulse gets the better of them, and they pop it into their mouths.
The lesson here is the same for children and adults: resist temptation and be rewarded. …Learn More