Initial insights: what the baby boomers told us
Families is the fifth of five key themes that emerged during the time we spent with baby boomers talking about overarching areas that are often discussed in reports about ageing – and which we wanted to explore with baby boomers to find out what they mean in people’s lives:
We linked what we learnt from the baby boomers we spent time with to what we have found out from a range of the reports and research that has also explored these issues, and analysis of statistics about baby boomers. Read more background on our method in the introduction to the first theme, Participation, here, and on the Innovation Age work here.
As a generation, baby boomers have higher rates of divorce and separation (34% of baby boomers are entering later life without a spouse, compared with 19% of builders) than previous generations; are more likely to be childless (14% of baby boomers are childless, compared with 9% of builders), and are more likely to be living alone (11% are living alone, compared to 6% in the builder generation) (Hugo, 2014;18-19). For many of the baby boomers we spent time with, family and friendship relationships were complex. Families were often stretched out geographically, with children and grandchildren being much more spread out, and spousal relationships less likely. Friends were important, but not necessarily always close enough to offer emotional support.
Opportunities for intimacy were sought out, and people were not as willing to accept solitude for long periods of time.
Family is, of course, important, but they may not always be around as much as we would like
For those baby boomers we spoke with who had close and loving relations with their families, despite some normal stresses, their families were a source of joy and engagement. Faye was always busy with her family and said:
“Family is really important to me and us. We will do anything to support our children and grandchildren to do whatever they want to in life. I do hope what goes around comes around and they will be there for us when we need them”.
For others who were not so close, family connections were a source of sadness and stress. Pauline is estranged from her daughter, son-in-law and grandson and her son lives interstate and is busy living his own life. She has found friends who are also disconnected from family, and they share their sadness about this:
“I expected to have a supportive loving family around us – I married to have a nice loving family. It is hard seeing other friends with loving families and grandkids and they are all involved supporting one another. I thought I was the only one; but the more I talk to others the more I realised they have the same problems with family. It was very important, absolutely huge to realise this. Talking to each other, you don’t have to say much with someone who has been there. Like with my friend at tennis, I say ‘I had a black day yesterday’ and she says ‘I know what you mean it will pass, it’s ok’”.
Dianne’s family is spread out all over Australia. All but one of her children live interstate and her two grandchildren are interstate. Visiting is difficult because of family dynamics. She finds it can be depressing and counters this by fostering relationships with other people’s grandchildren:
“I thought about putting an ad in the paper ‘Granny for Hire’. But it’s tough when I get to the end of the day on my birthday and none of the kids have called me”.
We might be alone for now, but we’re often keen to find that someone special We met baby boomers who were seeking intimate relationships – and who had joined internet dating sites such as RSVP and even Tinder. Others found relationships harder as they got older – like Wendy who thought that as she got older:
“You are more set in your ways”.
Jayne is ready to explore new intimacy, at age 60, after a long period of being single following a marriage breakdown:
“I would like to have a boyfriend now, I want someone to travel with or go to groups with”.
Bev has tried both Tinder and RSVP but has not found a long term partner yet (but said she has had fun along the way!).
Friends are great if we’ve found them – now, how do you find them again?
Some research has suggested that baby boomers, as a generation, are less well connected socially and have less social capital than previous generations (see for example, Fallon, 2004). However more recently the speculation by researchers has centred on whether baby boomers just have different ways of socialising than those recognised amongst older cohorts (see for example, Pietsch and Archer, 2013).
The baby boomers we spent time with had a diverse array of experiences with friends. Some had a broad range of friends, often drawn from their work or formal social groupings. George, a Tai-Chi Master in his late fifties mused about how he valued friends and grew his social circle:
“The more good friends you have, you feel yourself bigger. I have a big group of friends, and also my intimate friends, my ‘inner sanctum’. I have plenty of social friends made up from lots of areas in my life. I mix faces, ages – the partygoers, pals at the pub, friends who are not so much good character, but I’m there to influence them. I don’t judge them as long as they don’t harm me.”
Jen set up a ‘meet-up’ group for baby boomers in her local community as a way to meet with people in her own age group. Her husband was reluctant and nervous about the concept but after participating has become a ‘social butterfly’.
They both have since made really good friends and Jen speaks fondly of the whole group. Jen has experienced isolation and depression, and sees the group as “keeping me going and getting me out of my shell”. Jen also sees the group as a support structure for herself as she gets older.
Many of the people we spent time with were part of formal social clubs – Roger had joined a Men’s Shed, Sally was part of a film society and the local library. Richard was an active member of the Lions Club.
However, sometimes it was not through these formal clubs that people sought or got personal support. Richard said:
“I am a quiet person. I am very close to my family and have just a small group of friends. If I have problems I go to my doctor, he gives me unbiased advice and direction. I don’t talk to the Lions Club friends about these things. I am more of an observer of others. These days I am much better one to one but I find groups of people stressful, I just don’t know what to say. Lions has helped me because I can connect with people on community and passion. We have lived in our home for 25 years and seen the area change. There is one couple who are our neighbours that we have been friends with for 20 years, others we know to say hello to, then there are quite a number of rentals”.
By Ingrid Burkett, Project Director and Kerry Jones, Project Lead, The Innovation Age.
This is the last of seven excerpts we’ll be sharing from the Starting the Innovation Age Report: Boomer’s perspectives on what it takes to age well. This is the first report in a series as we open an invitation to be part of this movement towards what we are terming ‘The Innovation Age’. You can also download the report in its entirety here.