Longer lifespans, economic uncertainty and rising poverty rates have many boomers wondering how they'll cope with old age.
A new study answers that question, suggesting boomers will adapt to the future in the same resourceful way they dealt with the past - forming economic, social and health-related collectives as "families of choice" to help them as they grow old.
"With the world focused on the collapse of financial markets, it is especially important to understand the big picture that boomers face over the coming decades," said Kathi Vian, who directs 10-year forecasts for the Institute for the Future.
"They have crafted complex ecologies of risks and resources throughout their adulthood, and they may well manage those ecologies with surprising skill - and sometimes surprising innovations - as they age," she said.
The Institute, in conjunction with AARP, MetLife's Mature Market Institute and four other groups, looked into how the boomers - those 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 - will change given a widening gap between rich and poor, a global energy shortage and a Web-based infrastructure.
The study comes on a heels of a separate survey that found boomers around the world are increasingly concerned about just getting by during their retirement years. That report from the Hartford Financial Services Group found the No. 1 concern about retirement is paying for food, shelter and basic medical care.
The new study, entitled "Boomers: The Next 20 Years, Ecologies of Risk," concluded boomers will distribute the stress across networks of people based on kinship or social affinities.
"They'll plan more, work longer and become more entrepreneurial," the center said in a statement. "They will also take part in a peer-to-peer networks of people that will perform some of the financial services that banks and other financial institutions perform today."
Go With The Flow
Sandra Timmermann, director of MetLife's institute, said boomers will need to "reset their compasses" to find their way in a changing world. "An adaptive, disciplined and flexible self is the best asset that they can bring to the future," she said.
Among the other findings of the study:
Picking Families: The study says families will be "chosen" instead of inherited due to shifting patterns in marriage, remarriage, distance, finances, childbearing and alternative households. "There will be peer caretaking and social care matching services," it said.
Global Economy: Boomers will be the first elders in a new global society that offers new means of collaboration, medical tourism, learning resources and financial products from abroad.
Communities: Faced with elder abuse, anti-boomer attitudes and ageist zoning laws, boomers will create new communities that address issues like declining health, reduced mobility and polarization. "Like their younger counterparts they will participate in online social networks, virtual retirement communities and community blogging," the report said.
Sustainability: Environmental changes will bring new diseases, energy shortages and fewer sustainable food sources, according to the report. These suggest a need for food and energy collectives, do-it-yourself products and green technology.
Health: New, chronic diseases and widespread depression will prompt boomers to trade off privacy concerns for online information from around the globe.
Financial Security: Eroding trust in financial institutions and "diminished government and employer safety nets" will prompt boomers to create new banking systems, such as peer-to-peer lending and new structures to manage capital.