By Sandra Cohen, R.N. & Roger Cormier, M.A.

   Are older adults a subculture? Are people over 50 so distinct from people under 50 that they merit stereotyping? How do we feel about the “senior”-targeted marketing in the commercial and service sectors? Longer living is affecting the way we perceive, value and live the second half of our lives.

    In yesteryear people turning 50 expected to be gone within fifteen years. Now we’re hearing that 65 is the new 40, that at 50 we’re only halfway there, and that people 100 and older are the fastest growing demographic group in the U.S.

   AARP offers you membership at your 50th birthday to start receiving their publications, discounts and offers targeted to people 50 and up. Aside from AARP, Madison Avenue, the media and age-based research and advocacy groups, how do older people really see themselves? Just like with younger people, there are age-related trends and stereotypes, but individuals continue to make their own choices about their lives going forward.

   There is no such thing as a typical over-50 person. In fact, many people in every post-40’s decade resist and struggle with an identity that is constantly being formulated and packaged as if they are part of a herd. Some of the resistance stems from the wish to deny that we’re getting older and more aware of our mortality and that eventually most of us will lose our identity in the work world and much of our personal support system. 

Celebrate the newness of today

  However, much of the resistance rises from a joie de vivre that is not a function of age. People in their fifties, sixties and beyond make choices based on their personalities, career paths, family life, spiritual yearnings, personal moral values and learning, travel and entertainment interests. Age is not the dominant factor. Yes, they are aware they are older and hopefully wiser than in their earlier years, but they live now, with expectation for the future, and are neither sentimentally stuck in the past nor looking for trendy interests, products and experiences offered up by advertising.

   That does not mean that older people are not aware of nor pick and choose from groups, activities, products, services and adventures geared toward people of their age. Some of what AARP offers appeals to them. Some participate in communities like, “the online community of Boomers.” Some enjoy travel education and adventure with Road Scholar (aka Elderhostel). Many even retire at the traditional age of 65.

   However, others do not go near anything that smacks of cultural separation from the total community. They do not consider moving into a retirement community, do not join senior organizations nor subscribe to senior-oriented publications. They continue to work because they love it, exercise because it is exhilarating and avoid clusters of seniors talking about their health and doctor visits. As they say, “To each their own.”

 In “The Real Meaning of Life” (New World Library, 2005, $15) edited by David Seaman, one contributor rejects the common advice to live each day as though it were our last but instead chooses to live today “as if it were my first. The world is new and untarnished, waiting for me to discover it.” Many older people affirm his choice.