Assessing the sunset years

Mary Janigan January 7 1985

Assessing the sunset years

Mary Janigan January 7 1985

Assessing the sunset years


fAs you know, because of the baby boom, the number of senior citizens and retired people will increase significantly in the future. In general, how would you say the next generation of older people will compare with today's older Canadians? Will they be:'

A LOT MORE HEALTHY?........................................(10%)

MORE HEALTHY?................... (47%)

LESS HEALTHY?............. (23%)

A LOT LESS HEALTHY?................................... (7%)

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Mary Janigan

Carl Case cracked open his nest egg when the recession became acute in Western Canada last year. To support his faltering real estate investments, he withdrew his registered retirement savings plans. The 42-year-old horse trainer from Calgary is an optimist who says that his generation will be healthier and happier in old age than those who are elderly now. But he says that they will not likely be wealthier and he is worried about his own financial future. Declared Case: “They probably will not be much better off—social pressure will not let things get worse but they probably will not get much better.” That combination of stubborn optimism and restrained expectations mirrors the findings of The Maclean ’s/Decima Poll on attitudes toward aging.

A full 10 per cent of Canadians are now over the age of 65—and that number is expected to double in less than 50 years. The poll shows that as members of the first wave of postwar Baby Boomers edges toward middle age, they have come to expect a fulfilling old age with good health—and a better sex life. But like Canadians generally, they are uncertain about their financial future in a world in which the young will have to support so many old people. A full 57 per cent of Canadians surveyed agreed that the next generation of Canadian senior citizens will enjoy better health than its predecessors. Forty-seven per cent declared that the sex lives of the elderly

will be better, while 26 per cent said that the situation would remain the same.

In contrast to those upbeat declarations, 45 per cent of those polled say that future senior citizens will be worse off financially, while 41 per cent believe that their finances will improve—a virtual even split when the poll’s margin of error is taken into account. Said Bruce Anderson, a research consultant with Decima Research Ltd.: “Many people have reached the conclusion that exponential improvements in personal financial well-being are a thing of the past or, at least, are unlikely to resume in the foreseeable future. Reaching that conclusion has not plunged them into despair or dimmed their expectations regarding the quality of life in general.”

Wealthier: The poll indicates that those who are doing well now are more likely to believe that the future will be even better. Canadians who earn more than $40,000 a year are more likely to expect better health and more money for the next generation of senior citizens. In that high-income group, 69 per cent anticipate that seniors will be healthier, and 52 per cent expect them to be wealthier. Among those with a university education, 69 per cent anticipate that the next generation will be healthier than those who are elderly now, and 48 per cent say it will be wealthier.

In contrast, people living in less affluent Quebec are more likely to believe that both the health and finances of the next generation will be worse. Fully 39 per cent said they do not expect the next generation of seniors to be healthier,

and 54 per cent do not expect it to be wealthier than those now over 65. At the same time, among Canadians earning less than $20,000 a year, a full 37 per cent do not expect the next generation to be healthier when it reaches 65—and 51 per cent said that they do not anticipate it will be wealthier.

Sex Lives: In a fascinating statistical division, 61 per cent of respondents in the 16to 24-year-old age group insisted that the next generation will have a better sex life. But only 30 per cent of those aged 65 and over predicted that sex lives will improve for the next generation of senior citizens—while 29 per cent predicted that sex will be less rewarding. Oneil Couturier, 74, of Edmundston, N.B., who with his wife raised two adopted children and who will be celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with her next year, offered one explanation for that gloomy prediction. “I just cannot see that sex lives are going to be better,” said the retired pulp mill foreman. “All of these people are separating after just a few years of marriage. If you leave your partner, you are not happier.”

Despite reservations, the poll shows that Canadians do not equate aging with inexorable decay, nor are they concerned that their retirement years will find them in a state of joyless poverty. In fact, as they age they seem to become more resigned to fiscal restraints. Other findings indicate that a majority of Canadians think the pensions for seniors are inadequate. But only a minority of senior citizens share that view. Still, there is no doubt that many seniors have to live on low incomes. In The Maclean ’s/Decima Poll, 42 per cent of people over 65 lived on reported household incomes of less than $10,000 while another 38 per cent said their incomes were between $10,000 and $20,000. But when those over 65 were asked what they wanted most in 1985, only 14 per cent said that they wanted more money, while 76 per cent wished for better health. On average, 45 per cent of all Canadians wanted better health while 42 per cent wanted more money.

As well, despite the gains made by the elderly, The Maclean ’s/Decima Poll shows that many Canadians clearly believe financial progress cannot continue. Poll respondent Arthur Teale, for one, a 62-year-old machinist, retired last March after 42 years as a railway worker and in the maintenance department of a Calgary school. He now lives

in Victoria on a comfortable income because “I prepared financially—I denied myself quite a few things in prior years.” But he said that the next generation of senior citizens is not going to live as well. “Resources are getting hard to find and to develop in this country,” he said. “And those resources tend to go only to one group—those that are better off to begin with.”

That concern coincides with a time when the elderly are living longer, and their numbers are increasing. In 1931 the average baby boy could expect to live to 60 and a girl to 62. In 1976 the life expectancy was 70.2 for males and 77.5 for females. And by the turn of the century it will be about 72 for men and 81 for women, according to the National Council of Welfare. But the greying of Canadian society may not bring about as radical a shift in values as many anticipate. The Maclean ’s/Decima Poll shows that the generation gap between the elderly and other Canadians is not large. On almost all economic issues, the opinions of elderly people did not differ significantly from the national average.

Active: At the same time, significant differences emerged between senior citizens and younger Canadians in their approaches to certain social and moral issues. The elderly tended to be more conservative and pessimistic. Seventynine per cent said that the work ethic is waning among the young, compared with a national average of 62 per cent. And 63 per cent said that society is getting more permissive and that the change is bad compared with an average of 43 per cent. That pessimism seems to go hand in hand with a poor self-image. A full 41 per cent of the aged reported that they are not sexually active, compared to a national average of 9.8 per cent. As well, 52 per cent said that their appearance rated 1 to 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. That compares with a national average of 28 per cent of Canadians who rated themselves that low.

But younger Canadians insist that their retirement will be fulfilling. Mary Ann Jones, a 27-year-old substitute teacher in Medicine Hat, Alta., says that her generation has the benefit of advanced technology and as a result she expects to live longer. Although she has temporarily withdrawn from full-time teaching to care for her six-month-old son, she expects to go back to a full-time job and eventually draw a generous retirement pension. “I am not really scared because I feel relatively secure,” she said. “The one thing that I worry about is that I wonder if our children will be as concerned about the elderly as they should be. I have always felt that a good country looks after its aged—they have put a lot into it.”«£?