New research is out every day – especially on older Americans. Who would have thought? Some puts wind in your sails. A mid-June Pew Center study is new – and riveting. Historically, older Americans – those of us who have lived a little longer – tend to be more patriotic, appreciative of America’s history, exceptionalism, accomplishments, institutions, free markets and sacrifices. More are veterans, religiously affiliated, concerned about border security, and know history. Few have an interest, for example, in socialism. But there are also surprises.
In the Pew study, several facts lead the rest. First, Americans over 60 are spending more time on electronic devices, gathering news, communicating, calculating and staying engaged, to be specific half hour more daily than a decade ago. Of course, that is a merging curve – electronically capable middle-agers growing older, while the oldest Americans get savvier. Odds are high that you are reading this in an electronic setting, which – if you are over 50 – tends to make the point.
We are a learning nation, and proud to continue learning as we age. Contrary to the old adage, we like learning new tricks as old dogs. Numbers make the case persuasively. In 2000, only “14 percent of those ages 65 and older were internet users,” while “73 percent are” in 2019. Likewise, “while smartphone ownership was uncommon at all ages” in 2000, now “53 percent of people 65 and older” use a smartphone. If you are over 50 and reading on computer or smartphone, you are part of the wave.
A second measure of how “active” older Americans are – can be found in their propensity for accepting or continuing at paid work. Past decades saw a quest for early retirement, often associated with financial stress, loss of purpose and dependence on others. Something else is afoot today.
Older Americans seem resolved to retain options for purposeful work (paid and volunteer), as well as for planned play, more self-reliance, and enduring activities than their predecessors. On the numbers, more than four-in-ten Americans in their 60’s work, many coming off the bench in response to President Trump’s roaring economy. Even in older brackets, 14 percent of those in their 70s are still working, four percent in their 80s. With work comes purpose, security and self-reliance – as well as reduced dependence. What is good for the individual is good for America.
Ironically, higher levels of savvy in navigating electronic options, together with higher levels of paid and volunteer work, have not reduced time spent at “leisure.” That’s right: Although men tend to extend earning years longer than women, both cultivate leisure time – and tend to share household duties, with women cooking and cleaning more, men doing more “maintenance.”
Interestingly, a comparison of generations yields surprises. Those over 60 work longer than prior generations, but they average – even as they age – seven hours leisure a day (which includes electronic screen time), squeezing in roughly 8.5 hours sleep, and managing time for “chores.” By comparison, “younger Americans work more, have less leisure and screen time, and spend less time doing housework.”
Of course, as with all studies, data can be sliced and diced – and the truism holds for mature Americans, as it always has: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Still, this data suggests that older Americans are more resolved in 2019 to stay active, keep learning, use interactive screen-time, earn well into their 60s, consciously enjoy leisure and stay self-reliant. They also, incidentally, exercise more than a decade ago.
So, maybe the data tells us something else. Maybe earlier generations had fewer options – electronic and otherwise. Perhaps they endured less robust economic times, were unable to work longer. Perhaps they had fewer opportunities for staying purposeful, planning leisure, saving, savoring and staying self-reliant.
Maybe things tend to improve by inches, modest increments – but there is clearly more wind in our economy’s sail, more technology to access, more data to learn from, and a longer run with the wind – than a generation ago. Either way, older Americans are staying highly active. They even have time to read new research, ponder the implications, and write columns. Who would have thought?