The timing of the purposeful aging movement is critical. Sobering findings from the Stanford Center on Longevity’s Sightlines project add urgency and a potential red flag: 55-to-64-year-olds are less socially engaged now than their predecessors were 20 years ago. They are less likely to be married or involved in religious organizations. They don’t interact as much with neighbors and have weaker ties to family and friends.
Traditional modes of engagement are waning for all age groups, but the greatest decline is among those on the cusp of old age. While it’s not clear if workplace or online socializing may be compensating for these shortcomings, the startling findings have serious implications for our aging society. Social engagement is a key to improving health and longevity, and it is critical for societies to utilize the human capital represented in older citizens.
Feeling connected to others is crucial to physical and mental health. More than ever, it’s important that people between middle and advanced age flourish psychologically, physically, spiritually, and intellectually. Finding purposeful engagement may be just what aging adults need, as research suggests that volunteering promotes overall well-being.
Because of the size of the boomer cohort, the norms they set will not only have short-term ramifications, but may endure for generations. A great deal is at stake. If boomers establish expectations about giving back to communities and investing in younger generations, they can put the United States on track to become a better nation. In contrast, if they bow out and withdraw—as our Sightlines project suggests they may—we risk a dimmer future.
The essay was published in the report titled The Power of Purpose: Culture Change and the New Demography.