Toward the end of World War II, a young naval officer spent a weekend leave with his wife in Boston. Nine months later, I arrived. But that was just the beginning. After the war, soldiers and sailors came home and many more babies were born. There were lots of us in this new baby boom generation and we have had a huge influence on social, economic and cultural patterns in every decade since.
As we grew up, new suburban housing tracts were developed and schools were built to accommodate our numbers. As we approached adulthood, we went off to college or to fight in another war. There were so many of us that when we questioned the established order we had an impact. We changed the way society looked at gender roles, racial inequality and our military involvements around the world. We became aware of threats to the environment. As we shook up the old assumptions, we searched for new lifestyles, trying preventive approaches to health like yoga and tai chi and jogging. As we moved into adulthood, we continued to be pioneers and experimenters.
Now, as we are becoming seniors and moving into retirement, we face new challenges. We will have more leisure time for recreational activities. As we age further, we will need more medical care. As pioneers and experimenters, we will do things differently. We will change the face of recreation as we stay healthy longer. We will change the face of health care as we become the first group of seniors to use new and expanded government benefits.
When I look ahead a few years, I ask myself how my transportation needs will be met. A recent report from the AARP states that many boomers are products of the suburbs, accustomed to automobiles as their default mode. The majority of seniors prefer to “age in place,” that is, they want to stay in their homes.
This leaves us with a plethora of older drivers. Fine, right? They have their independence, and more power to them. But what happens as they get older and their sight, hearing and reaction time begin to decline? Have you noticed how many cars have been driven into storefronts lately? Notice, too, that the driver is rarely younger than 60.
Once we become too old to drive our own cars, what will we do? Many seniors rely on their adult children for rides to doctor appointments, shopping, church and other places. This is a good stopgap for some, but it may not work for everyone, and there may be limits to the amount of dependence a person can tolerate.
We Americans are very invested in the norm of reciprocity and if we can’t repay these favors, we may be hesitant to overuse them. In the place of children, some of us will be lucky enough to have younger friends. Again, there are limits. If we can afford it, we can travel by taxi sometimes. If we can’t afford taxis, we may be able to use public paratransit and private van services for doctor visits and other trips. These require planning ahead and are contingent on availability.
Will we come up with new and improved approaches to elder transportation? Will we boomers continue to be pioneers and experimenters? Will we give up our cars and use bus, light rail, and car sharing services in large numbers? I look forward to this next life stage with curiosity and a sense of adventure.