“Third age” is one of several terms for a relatively new stage in life — occurring between middle age and old age — and made possible by longer life expectancies. Baby boomers are aging, with the oldest boomers having turned 70 last year and the fastest growing segment of the population made up of people over 90.
The bad news is that boomers will challenge the economy by utilizing more Social Security, medical and health care benefits. Given these facts, it is imperative that we adopt practices in our third age for cultivating not only long lives but also successful, meaningful and productive lives.
The good news is that individuals in the third age have a lot to share. In terms of brainpower, studies show that older individuals can be both productive and creative. In fact, the most frequent age bracket for Nobel laureates is 60 to 64 years old. Consider the work of John Goodenough, who is 95 years old and a professor of mechanical engineering and material science at the University of Texas at Austin. He and his team have recently filed a patent application for a new battery, which if successful, will revolutionize the electric car.
Obviously, Goodenough is exceptional, and while not all of us can expect to reach the pinnacle of success after age 90, we still can make a significant impact. In fact, third agers are hardwired to make contributions to society. The term “generativity,” coined by Erik Erikson, describes a specific stage in life when individuals — usually between the ages of 40 and 65 — are compelled to find meaning in their lives by generating care and concern for both older and younger generations. In other words, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to make a significant contribution.
The distinct voice of a third ager comes from years of experience and has real value when shared with others. No other generation before could expect any reasonable chance of living 20 or 30 years after their 50th birthday.
By nurturing generative qualities, third agers may actually be helping themselves. Longevity studies show that individuals who are engaged and connected, who find meaning and purpose in their everyday lives, tend to live longer and healthier lives. Showing up and engaging are the first steps in planning a successful third age and beyond.
Mother Teresa said it best: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Let’s begin now. Dedicate 2018 to the year of doing small things with great love.
Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.