My odometer rolls over once again this weekend, and this is the first time I’ve come to a birthday and wished I could erase the previous year – not because I am getting older, but because now I am hitting the odd years of a decade that seem to not matter.
I guess this birthday will be memorable just because I don’t remember a year with so much continual bad news – the coronavirus deaths, racial strife, political unrest, and a lack of leadership, from the governor’s mansion to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. – all combine to make 2020 a footlong poop sandwich with an extra helping of stink sauce on the side.
But aside from our current national existential crisis, who’s going to remember turning 61? (Or 31, 41 and 51 for that matter).
The decade-plus one birthdays have always been kind of a let down. You’ve stressed the big rollover, in my case the big Six-Oh, then it happens.
Life goes on. Twelve more months pass and then it’s a birthday again, but less stressful.
I was relieved to find an article from CBS News that suggested I’m not as old as the calendar suggests.
According to a 2017 report by CBS News writer Steve Vernon, the term “old” is relative, and old people are getting older.
Research from Stanford University economics professor John Shoven suggests that if your chance of dying within the next year is 1 percent or less, you could be considered middle aged.
In the 1920s, middle age for men was age 44.
Now, the middle age metric applies to men about 60, Shoven’s research suggests.
To be old, your chance of dying within the next year has to be 2 percent or more, according to Shoven. In the 1920s, that age was 55. Nowadays, however, men don’t hit the 2 percent mark until the age of 70.
Very old, or eldery, means your chance of dying within the next year is up to 4 percent, which meant you were ancient in the 1920s once you hit 65. Now, thanks to the magic of statistics, you don’t really get old-old until you’re 76 – you know, like Joe Biden.
Us young middle-agedish guys, like fellow 61-year-old Mike Pence, can run circles around our dottering seniors, like Biden and Donald Trump.
Shoven says our extended lives are just consequences of a longevity revolution Americans have experienced over the past several decades.
“It results from virtually universal access to clean water, sanitation, waste removal, electricity, refrigerators and vaccinations, and continued improvement in health care,” Vernon wrote. Demographers predict longevity will continue to lengthen in the coming decade.
Men aren’t the only beneficiaries. According to Shoven, women transition out of middle age around 65 – in the 1920s, that would have been 48 or 49.
An “old” woman today is about 73, instead of 59, and “very old” is around 80 instead of 67 in the 1920s.
Of course, there has to be a downside to all this, right?
The downside is living longer means, for most of us, working longer.
Cultural expectations are that people in their 60s and 70s are ready to retire, and those expectations are based on what was appropriate decades ago. Now it is too expensive to keep adding years to the retirement phase.
Shoven says “it’s very expensive to fund 30-year retirements over a 40-year career.”
Longer retirements require savings levels that most people can’t meet, and it will continue to put a strain on Social Security and pension systems.
It also doesn’t make sense to stop working altogether if you are still physically capable of earning a paycheck and contributing to society.
People may gain social and health benefits by working in their later years, Vernon states.
According to the AARP, adults age 65 and older are twice as likely to be working today compared with 1985.
According to a February 2019 report, more than 20 percent of adults over age 65 are either working or looking for work, compared with 10 percent in 1985.
The study analyzed data from the Current Population Survey, a report compiled monthly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The BLS expects the trend of older people working to continue, estimating that 13 million Americans age 65 and older will be in the labor force by 2024, according to the AARP article.
For older workers, the share of these adults who are working who have at least a college degree grew from 25 percent in 1985 to 53 percent in 2019.
The average income of these retirement-age workers jumped by 63 percent – after adjusting for inflation, from $48,000 to $78,000, according to the AARP.
Older Americans in the workforce tend to earn more than younger workers, according to the 2019 report. The $78,000 average earnings for workers 65 and older compares with $55,000 on average for those under 65.
The last time 20 percent of those 65 and older were working was in 1962. In 1949, one of the first years the Current Population Survey included this measure of the workforce, 28.5 percent of those 65 and older were working.
Retirement has never really been a goal for me, personally, which is good – I have about as much chance of retiring as I have of winning the lottery, Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes and an Academy Award, all on the same day.
Like my hero, Jimmy Buffett, sings:
“I’m growing older but not up, My metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck, Let those winds of time blow over my head, I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.”
It’s also nice to know my 61 is just the new 41, so I should be able to keep writing columns for at least another three decades.
And who knows? In 2050, maybe 91 will be the new 61.