Boomers walk parents' path to retirement

Baby boomers, while looking at life differently, are expected to use

Melva Boettner and Nancy Grout share more in common than a zest for adventure and a branch on the family tree. The mother and daughter also share the same Arizona retirement community.

And why not? They say the gated neighborhood gives them a sense of security, the swimming pools and tennis courts keep them active, and nurses are on-call 24 hours a day. "Everything we need, we have," Mrs. Grout says of Leisure World.

It's a situation that may become increasingly familiar to Americans during the coming decade. While most baby boomers have led radically different lives from their parents, some social scientists say they're likely to follow their parents' footsteps when they reach retirement age.

The question of where the baby-boom generation will retire has enormous implications for the nation's Sun Belt. States from Arizona to Florida rely on a steady influx of retirees fleeing cold climates as an essential component of their expanding economies. To them, baby boomers - those tens of millions of Americans born between World War II and 1964 - are a potential jackpot.

In the meantime, demographers and gerontologists will be watching Grout and other new retirees for indications of what the future of retirement might look like.

"I see no evidence indicating that baby boomers will approach retirement any differently than their predecessors," says David Taylor, a planner in Tucson, which is one of the Arizona cities experiencing a flood of seasonal retirees, known as snowbirds, and permanent elderly migrants from northern states.

But he adds: "The baby boomers very clearly have approached life differently than those who have entered retirement the last few decades - people who grew up during the Great Depression."

RETIREES represent 15.5 percent of Arizona's overall population, which is the fastest growing in the US. The state's median age is 35.5 and going up, but Mr. Taylor attributes it more to the aging of boomers than a surge of retirees.

Demographic studies show that Arizona captures 80 percent of retirees from the Midwestern and Plains states, while Florida claims the lion's share of retirees living east of the Mississippi River and from the populous Northeast, notes Tim Hogan, director of the Siebman Institute at Arizona State University in Tempe.

The inflow of retirees follows a predictable pattern: Many flock to the Sun Belt seasonally during the winter and then, after a few years, move south permanently.

Obviously, there are fundamental differences between each generation's approaches to its golden years. Attitudes of current retirees were shaped by the Depression and they tend to carry an ever-present concern about their financial standing.

As a hedge, these seniors are thrifty, feel uncomfortable accruing huge debt with credit cards, are largely single wage-earner families, see themselves as "joiners" in community activities like the Lions' Club or Elks' Lodge, choose neighborhoods for their social value rather than exclusivity, and worked for only a couple of employers their entire career.

Baby boomers, on the other hand, have established a reputation for being incredibly independent, self-indulgent, mobile, and desirous of large personal space. Boomers are not into delayed gratification, like their parents, who squirreled away resources that wouldn't be touched for decades, says Marshall Vest, a professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Mr. Vest just published an economic study assessing the impact of retirees in Arizona. Statewide, migrating seniors bring a net increase of 23,500 new people to Arizona each year, they spend in excess of $350 million, and create demand for 11,500 new housing units.

If the retirement industry was big business before, he suggests it will be dwarfed by what lies ahead with baby boomers.

An article published in the trade journal American Demographics cited a survey of baby boomers by Del Webb Corp., designers of the Sun City retirement concept.

Respondents, on average, began saving for retirement in their mid-30s, and more than 30 percent expected that with their retirement savings they would be supporting their kids, their parents, or both.

Along those lines, the study found that two-thirds intended to work after they retired and listed 79 as the age they think people are old.

Taylor says if he were the manager of a retirement community, he wouldn't worry about it being filled in 20 years. There are so many boomers heading into retirement that if only a small percentage of them chooses to reside in places like Leisure World, it will be enough.

"Are the boomers collectively going to settle into cookie-cutter retirement villages? I never like to generalize, but I don't think so," he says. "They will probably be greater dispersed.... [They are] not afraid of living in communities where there are people of different races."

David Mauthe, a fiscal adviser at Leisure World, one of seven such communities in the US, says attitudes about retirement have changed profoundly since his development was founded in 1973.

"What happens when the baby boomers retire is a fascinating topic, and it's one that we have speculated endlessly about," Mr Mauthe says.

Despite people retiring younger, he adds, the average age of a Leisure World resident is 75 years and going up because people are living longer.

EVEN 30 years ago, having parents and their children like Grout and Boettner living in the same retirement community was an anomaly. But, say residents, places like Leisure World help restore the nuclear family.

Although Grout isn't a baby boomer herself, some of her friends, in their 50s and at the leading edge of the boomer generation, have purchased homes in Leisure World, not merely to be nearer to their parents, but because they like the amenities.

The mother of boomer kids herself, Grout has no idea whether this kind of living will appeal to her children. "When [my husband and I] were their age, we never thought we would be living here," she says. "But here we are. Your perspective changes when you get older."

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