You have to be 90 years old or older to be a member of the Greatest Generation. If you’re somewhere between 89 and 72, you’re in the Silent Generation. Then comes the Baby Boomers aged 53 to 71, Generation X aged 37 to 52, the Millennials aged 19-36, and Generation Z aged 18 and younger.
Life expectancy at birth hovered around 20 years for most of ancient history as we know it. By the year 1200 we were up to 30 years and didn’t approach 40 years until near the 1800s. By the 1900s, life expectancy started to shoot up. In the last hundred years we’ve added 3 more decades to the average life. Amazing.
Each generation has larger percentages of persons living to advanced ages than the previous. They’re also doing well at it. Each generation also has larger percentages of persons of advanced age living active lifestyles, continuing education, remarrying, following their dreams and passions.
In the Journal of Active Aging, author Lori Bitter provides an article titled The intergenerational imperative: Why we’ve never needed each other more”. She calls the changes across the generational spectrum a “seismic shift” and emphasizes the importance of recognizing interdependence between generations. She underscores that culturally, we haven’t realized the full impact of this new reality.
We recognize shifts in small pieces, not realizing they’re part of a larger whole. Look at shifts in housing for example. Young adults, due to debt or inability to save for down-payments, are living with parents or other older adults. According to Pew Research Center, in 2014, 19 percent of the U.S. population lived with multiple generations under one roof. For the first time, young adults replaced elders as the second adult generation in the household.
Meanwhile, home ownership doesn’t seem to be a dream for younger generations. Home ownership reached a historic low in 2016, not only due to lack of interest by Millennials, but also increased interest in rentals by Boomers and Generation Xers. A 2015 Harvard University study found families and couples ages 45-64 accounted for about twice the share of renter growth as persons under 35.
To afford housing, shared housing options are growing. Boomers might bring in roommates or rent space to offset costs of their overly large homes; a trend expected to continue. Three generation households are increasingly common. Developers are starting to notice.
Housing is an easy example, but a shift to an intergenerational focus is happening in many fields. Amanda Cavaleri, an AARP Innovation Fellow, founded Connect The Ages, a social enterprise on a mission to connect 5 million students to careers in aging by 2025. She comments, “Most students aren’t aware jobs in aging even exist, let alone future-proof, interdisciplinary jobs with room for advancement.” Connect The Ages regularly releases interviews with Millennials in aging fields related to architecture, entrepreneurs, healthcare, lawyers, policymakers and technology as a means to spark interest.
Increased longevity is creating change for all age groups, all sectors of society. Within the Livable Communities workgroup of the local Strategic Leadership Council, encouraging local decision makers and investors to consider the intergenerational aspect of all communities is a regular focus.
Interdependency between generations is real. Generations need each other and time will pull them closer and closer together. We all can think of examples among our friends and family.
For instance, at a recent Christmas gathering, I mentioned to a grandson that his grandfather and I might need his help with a maintenance project at our cottage where he likes to vacation. He smiled and said, “Grandma, I’ve been waiting for you to ask”. And on we go….