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Wednesday, March 28, 2007


An interesting show is schedule to air this evening on PBS stations -- The Boomer Century: 1946-2046. Being part of that group (the 78 million folks born in the US from 1946 to 1964; I was born near the front end, 1946), I'll watch it for the nostalgia parts -- but also out of curiosity about what the demographers and sociologists and other such folks are predicting.

There is a tendency among folks in my field (political science and public administration) to project past behavior of the elderly into the future while ignoring what should be obvious: generations and the culture of generations makes a difference. When I talk to some of my practitioner students who are bracing for an increase in the elderly population in their towns, it is clear that they assume that "age" rather than generational culture is the main factor shaping needs and priorities. There is some obvious truth to that -- the older you get the more you will need certain kinds of public services. But there are all sorts of reasons to believe that the 60 year old of today is quite unlike the 60 year old of the past, and that as this huge cohort comes "of age", these differences will prove substantial when it comes to life style choices and demands for public services.

I realize it is a silly example, but the other night my wife and I attended a local fund raising dance that drew a more mature crowd. I would guess more than half the folks there were in their 60s or older. The bands (there were two) included one that played music from the 40s and 50s, while the other played music form the 60s and 70s. The ballroom dancing crowd was up doing their thing (we are among their number -- or at least trying to be), but when the rock and roll started to play the floor was packed with all these white haired folks dancing like they were in some high school gym or on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. It is trite to say it, but this wasn't your father's (or mother's) senior citizen dance. Just as we are starting to hear some pretty familiar tunes from the 60s and 70s accompanying commercials aimed at the boomers, so we are starting to see a transformation of life style among the "elderly".

Yes, we are getting older, but we are bringing our cultural habits with us....

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