Why the young must worry over going grey

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The Independent Online
Today's thirtysomethings, nurtured on the "megabyte, microfibre and media imaging" culture will become the demanding pensioners of the 21st century.

It seems hard to imagine Elizabeth Hurley, doyenne of the very little black dress, and Diana, Princess of Wales, devotee of the exercise bike, wrapped in woolly scarves and clutching their pension books in fingerless gloves.

But this generation of thirtysomethings, who are obsessed with the preservation of youth, must now begin the debate about old age and how they expect society to pay for it.

The baby boomers of the 1960s, who also include Anthea Turner and Nick Leeson, are set to become the grey boomers of tomorrow with a third of the population in 2026 aged over 60, according to a new survey.

Compared to previous generations, the grey boomers will more likely be single, without children, and have a higher level of education while experiencing unemployment and early retirement.

A decade-long baby boom began in 1961 during which more than 10 million babies were born - a larger population bulge than the earlier baby bulge cohort of the immediate post-Second World War years. Those born in the1960s are now half way to retirement.

By 2021 the number of people over current retirement age will be 17 million, increasing the share of the "grey vote" to 34 per cent - up from less than a quarter today. Men will expect to live a further 21 years after retirement, women a further 25 years.

Twelve per cent of women and 18 per cent of men from the 1960s baby generation will not be married or living with someone by the time they reach the age of 50 (compared with 5 and 9 per cent respectively for those born in 1947).

And among those who do marry a greater proportion will divorce or separate - around 18 per cent of women and 15 per cent of men born in 1961 had already witnessed the break-up of their marriage or living together by the time they were thirty.

The overall increase in the numbers living alone will be up 10 per cent for women and 15 per cent for men. Demographers predict that 21 per cent of sixties baby boom women will remain childless all their lives.

Most care for old people is at present provided by family members - more than 90 per cent of all people who have mobility problems are helped by relatives or other household members.

But for the sixties babies the higher incidence of divorce, family break- up and childlessness will have an impact - and with increasing numbers of women in full-time employment and greater geographical mobility it is predicted that fewer women (the traditional carers) will be available to care for older relatives.

Caring is also a long-term experience. On average a fifth of people caring for someone in their own homes provide care for at least 10 years while two fifths provide care for between one and four years. With longer life expectancy many sixties babies will experience the burden of caring for a very old parent as they themselves are approaching or entering retirement. "If current policies continue, baby boomers who care for older relatives can expect even lower levels of state support and face growing charges for that support," said the study. "There is a need for a state benefit that both provides an average wage and protects lifetime living standards for those who take on full-time caring responsibilities."

The study concludes that future policy should aim to plan for phased and more flexible retirements, provide a safety net for those with low retirement incomes and improve preventative health services, health promotion and screening.

"This study is our wake-up call to today's thirtysomethings who are already half-way to retirement," said Sally Greengross, director of Age Concern England. "They will have drastically different expectations to old age to today's pensioners and more political clout - so now's the time to begin the debate about the kind of old age they will expect in the 21st century and how their society will provide for it."

`Babyboomers, Ageing in the 21st Century' costs pounds 14.95 from Age Concern England, Head Office, Astral House, 1268 London Rd, London, SW16 4ER 0181-679 8000