The future of retirement and the elderly

20/20 foresight: looking to the future

As we move further into the 21st century, it's natural to wonder what the future will bring: In what kinds of houses and communities will Americans be living in 2020? What kind of jobs will people hold? Will fewer of us be married? Writers Kim Campbell, Clayton Collins, Marilyn Gardner, and Elizabeth Lund sought answers to these questions - and more - from eight experts whose jobs require them to predict what our lives will be like in 15 years. Read excerpts from those interviews in this section.

Where will a burgeoning population of older people live in 2020? How will this change housing and society?

We will have two generations occupying the group called elders. In the past we've pretty much had one group whose needs we're trying to satisfy.

In 2020, the group called the Silent Generation, born between 1924 and 1944, will be 76 and older. There's no reason to think they won't still be a vigorous voice. Baby boomers will be approximately 55 to 75.

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The Silents are very civic-minded. As retirees, they want to stay active and be able to participate in the arts and in learning and volunteer activities. They want to be in a community, in an intergenerational setting.

That means as a group, they aren't as interested in moving away to Sun City and living with only older people. This is a big change. We've always made our elder communities separate. They're gated, or they're labeled as retirement communities.

Then we add the baby boomers. As a generation, they are very concerned with fitness, health, quality of life, and an undertone of spirituality. Not necessarily religion, but the broader perspective of spirituality.

Both generational groups will want to be focused on wellness. We often just think of it as physical wellness, but using the World Health Organization definition, it's intellectual, physical, emotional/social, and spiritual.

This needs to be addressed in conjunction with the housing that is established for elders in 2020.

Already architects are designing communities with pods, where apartments or efficiency apartments [for older residents] open up onto common areas. They recognize that people want privacy but also the opportunity to interact in a social environment.

Advances in technology could have a huge impact on opening up choices for how we live as elders. Instead of having a home healthcare worker come out and check on someone, the person might put a hand on the computer screen. That information would be sent to a home-health data center, and attention given only when people have a need.

Monitors in the tiles in your floor would recognize each person in the house by their weight on the tile and their gait pattern. There would be a way to know, has someone gotten up that day, or do we need to send someone to check on them? People could be able to stay in their own home longer. It won't need to look different.

We're not going to have more people in nursing homes. You've got to throw that model out and start with a whole new model, which gives me a lot of hope.

There will be more intergenerational housing with a focus on community. That would support wellness. The good news is, maybe we will finally have a way to show worth and value for our elders, because in that setting they will continue to be contributors.

Marta Keane is president of The Strategies Group in Earlysville, Va. She is also a healthcare consultant.

In 2020, will a standard retirement age be a thing of the past?

By 2020, we'll have people [routinely] living to between 85 and 95 years old. Retirement ages will change. I think there will be three retirement ages: 70, 72, and 75. The amounts people will get paid for Social Security will be proportionate to each age. If you retire at 70, you'll get a smaller percentage. At 72 you'll get more, and at 75 you'll get full retirement.

As people work longer, the younger workers behind them may not get promoted. Starting probably in 10 to 12 years, people are going to phase into retirement. Between ages 70 and 72, you might work 30 hours. From 72 on, you may only put in 20 hours. You [would be able to] phase in your Social Security as well.

By 2020, we're still going to be using our same Social Security system. There may be a means test. If you're making over $200,000 a year, I don't think you're going to get Social Security. For some of those people, it'll affect the age of retirement. They may work a little longer [to compensate for not receiving Social Security].

What the government may do is give these [high-income] people back the money they paid into Social Security, without interest. Once their contribution is used up, their monthly payments will stop.

By 2020, 88 percent of [Americans] will be working in service jobs. Half of those will be knowledge or information workers, such as technology professionals, and the other half will provide services - repair a house, fix a picture frame, sell in a store.

Just 12 percent will be in manufacturing or heavy labor.

Laborers will retire earlier, as they do now. People who have physically demanding work will take the early out. The individuals now who accept Social Security on an earlier basis will probably be the same groups accepting it in 2020.

Working from home takes the pressure off the aggravation of commuting. Older people who have problems getting around can work from home.

Medical costs will continue to rise. They will be probably double or triple the inflation rate for the next 15 years. As people start spending more for that, they have to make a determination: Can I afford to retire if my medical costs keep going up? People may want to work longer to be sure they're covered.

Technology becomes obsolete very quickly. Older workers will have to keep up with the latest information and technology. It's called lifelong learning.

Dr. Marvin Cetron is president of Forecasting International in Falls Church, Va.

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