70 is the new 50

They are shattering stereotypes, turning “senior” and “elder” into pejoratives and forcing their boomer and gen-x children and institutions to rethink strategies and programs.


“We’ve been saying that 60 is the new 40,” says Mary Futrell, Director of Lifelong Learning at the North Shore Senior Center. The center’s programs serve 23 northern suburbs. “It won’t be long before we say 70 is the new 50.”

As the population ages, so do perceptions of “old age,” according to a national study by the Pew Research Center. The research, published last year, found that persons 30 to 49 think old age happens at 69 while those who are 65 believe old age begins at 74.

Regardless, an aging population is changing the way it lives. Examples are everywhere:

  • Online dating sites catering to an aging population are crowded with both women and men looking for more than a dinner date or a symphony companion
  • Sex and sexuality are viewed as important by persons up to age 85 according to a major national University of Chicago survey of sexual behavior among older adults
  • Enrollment in lifelong learning programs at retirement communities, park districts, libraries, community colleges is soaring
  • Exercise classes, tennis courts, golf courses, swimming pools, biking trails and paddling waters are crowded with active older persons.

“A lot of people that come in for programs don’t identify themselves as seniors,” says Futrell.

“Our active programs have grown 10% since 2004,” says James Moses, president of Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel), the country’s leading not-for-profit provider of domestic and foreign educational and travel programs for older persons. “People are more focused on being physically active.”

That is one of the reasons the 35-year-old organization dropped “elder” from its name, says Moses.

And the desire for healthy engagement is not limited to just active mature adults.

“We are developing programs to enrich lives,” says Beth Welsh, who heads enrichment programs for residents of Bethany Terrace, a Morton Grove nursing home.

“The emphasis on wellness and all the advances in health care are keeping people active much longer,” adds Futrell who joined the NSSC after developing programs for the Evanston’s Mather Lifeways community. “And it is not just physical wellness but also spiritual wellness.”