Originally published in the Montreal Gazette on January 2nd, 2011. To go to the Montreal Gazette website please click here
The first baby boomers — those original teenagers who were never going to trust anyone over 30 — will hit traditional retirement age this year, and Ron Farrell will be leading the pack, turning 65 on Jan. 12.
“The only thing I’d thought about was applying for Old Age Security because I wouldn’t want to miss one of those cheques, but when I did, I kind of resented having to write it down, because I don’t feel old,” says the resident of North Bay, Ont.
Farrell retired as a senior executive seven years ago and since then life has been packed with volunteer work, travel and cottage visits with his grandsons, so he says 65 doesn’t feel like much of a milestone.
“I couldn’t wait to be 18 so I could go in the pool room. And I wanted to be 21 so I could drink. You’re always looking to the future; there’s something out there that’s going to get better when you get a little older,” Farrell says.
“When you’re 65 . . . the horizon is sort of flat and you can see things you want to do, the bucket list, but you don’t see goals being attained by age, you see goals being attained by activity.”
Baby boomers — generally defined as those born between 1946 and 1966 — now include almost one in three Canadians, and they’re propelling a rapid aging of the population. But as the biggest generation in history heads into its “senior years,” experts say our views of aging are profoundly out of step with reality and due for a major overhaul.
“Get wise to the fact that while you might be the biggest and most important demographic, the forces of ageism are still alive and well,” says Susan Eng, vice-president advocacy for CARP, formerly the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.
“We all make these half-hearted jokes about hitting 40, 50, 60. We even have to keep saying things like, ‘60 is the new 40.’ What’s wrong with just being 60?”
Signs of our society’s neurotic views of aging are as close as the next commercial break, experts say, with older people in marketing caricatured, ignored or expected to follow the lead of celebrities who haven’t aged a day in the past two decades.
Kay Van Norman, president of the Montana-based consultation firm Brilliant Aging, says the image indelibly burned into her memory is the infamous “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” commercial for an emergency alert company from the early 1990s. If older people aren’t being portrayed as frail and needy, they’re skewered as doddering fools on sitcoms and The Simpsons, she says, or compared to “super-humans” like Raquel Welch, whose ageless faces and bodies are impossible to match.
Long after sexism and racism became unacceptable, ageism remains “the last bastion of the ‘isms,’” Van Norman says.
“I was at a grocery store and picked up a card that had a bunny on the front wrinkling up its nose and saying, ‘I smell an old person,’” she says.