We’ve long suspected the baby boomers will be a demanding bunch when they reach old age, and new research has confirmed the notion. According to Victoria University of Wellington researcher Kathy Glasgow, future government policies will need to be flexible to accommodate the diverse needs of ageing baby boomers.

 Glasgow, who recently graduated with a PhD in social policy, interviewed mid-life baby boomers around New Zealand to explore their views about old age and compare their expectations and values with current policies for older people.

“A desire for choice and control came through strongly. Boomers grew up through a period of rapid social change, and were exposed to a broadening of possibilities so they expect a choice in how they create their own lifestyles in old age.”

While boomers are expecting to work longer and know they need to prepare financially for their old age, they want to do it in their own way, says Glasgow.

“If there’s any sense of being forced or coerced through policy decision making I think there’ll be strong resistance. Boomers value independence and self-reliance. But like their parents before them, there’s still an underlying sense that it’s the state’s responsibility to care for older people who are in need.”

Creative living options needed

Glasgow says baby boomers expect to live in a variety of housing situations. That could include adapting the retirement village model to reflect their worldview, such as creating eco-style retirement villages or small settlements that are communally managed. Some people she talked to were planning communal living arrangements akin to the flatting arrangement of their teenage years.

“Flatting was a part of the boomer experience that was different from their parents’ generation, who commonly only left home when they got married.

“There’s also the desire for the coastal lifestyle or bush retreat, but this is tempered with thoughts of wanting to be close to social activities and family.”

With families no longer living as close to each other as they used to, there wasn’t a strong expectation that children would be around or able to provide much support.

“This implies the need to explore opportunities for supporting more creative social networks,” says Glasgow.

Work-life balance crucial

Although many boomers said they were looking forward to reducing work hours, their key emphasis was on work-life balance.

“The underlying values that came through were about choice – being able to choose where they live, who they live with, as well as what lifestyle they led. Flexibility, such as more control over hours and opportunities to work from home, were important too.”

Baby boomers expected to lead an active lifestyle in their older age.

“When you dug deeper, there were some fears about growing old and health was definitely one of them. However, there was also an optimism amongst boomers that they could transform their own experience through leading a healthy lifestyle.”

Glasgow’s research tallies with the views of Australian marketing expert Gill Walker, who explains that the boomer generation wants service, experience and social engagement.

“Boomers want social engagement as that is the secret to youthfulness; they want a lifestyle with less worries, more ‘me time’, and importantly they want to stay healthy (mentally and physically) so as not to be a burden on their kids or have to go to aged care. Boomers will look to flock with friends, not just family, especially if their family are dispersed around the world,” she says.

Walker thinks retirement village operators may need to think carefully about what they’re offering to the baby boomer generation.

“My advice is for retirement developers to watch mainstream property marketers more closely as their housing options without the ‘age tags’ will have greater appeal to boomers in the next few years.

“Intergenerational developers have a head start, especially with boomers – they just need to build the right product,” she says.

DMF model fading in favour

Walker says boomers typically want to own their retirement residences, and have at least one eye on an improved investment outcome, which means the DMF model has less and less appeal, as they feel both parties should benefit financially.

From a marketing perspective, she says it is vital that for boomers you dial up the experience that they will get.

“It’s about self-approval based motives over social approval-based motives, which appeal to the young.”

Walker gives the example of technology in the home. For boomers, it’s more about the rational benefits of technology, not ‘skite’ technology. Smart technology that controls the temperature of the home, saves money, checks your health, automatically turns on the lights in the corridor when you go to the bathroom at night, is more attractive than home cinema and surround sound.

Ready or not, the baby boomers are on their way and the retirement and aged care sectors should arm themselves with as much knowledge and research available so they are prepared to meet the needs of a generation that knows what it wants.

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