Do baby boomers live longer than their grandparents?

Interestingly enough, the United States already has the largest population of centenarians in the world. At about 72,000, the over 100 crowd is projected to potentially increase seven-fold by 2020 according to the Census Bureau. By contrast, living into your 70s was considered a remarkable achievement a century ago. And less than one percent of people born in 1910 made it to their 100th birthday.

Credit lower childhood mortality, better medical care, more education about health choices and plain old good genes. Aging experts say today’s centenarians are the fastest growing segment of the population in terms of age. Who knows? Maybe years from now 110 will be the new 100 when the question is “Do Gen-Xers live longer than their baby boomer grandparents?”

During the first quarter of our lives, we often anticipate our birthdays. Another year brings you closer to joyous milestones: assuming the status of a teenager at 13, learning to drive a car at 16 and drinking "adult" beverages legally at 21. By the mid-20s and onward, eagerness gradually turns to hesitation for many adults. Festivities for one's 40th year are often distinguished by black decorations. After that, birthday parties might be low-key events or even cease altogether.

National attention is focused on one soon to be celebrated over-the-hill birthday. In 2011, the oldest constituents of the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) will reach the landmark age of 65. With that, the principal adult population in the United States officially begins its journey into old age. But the federal government isn't supplying balloons and party whistles; it's ringing the bells of alarm. Baby boomers will cause the number of elderly people in the nation to more than double, and the healthcare system is unprepared to handle the influx. A federal study suggests the United States needs an additional 29,000 geriatricians to accommodate the spike in elderly patients.

Medical technology and improved nutrition have drastically lengthened our lifetimes. Old age in particular has extended for the average Joe. A century ago, people who reached 65 years old could live approximately 12 more years. Today, that figure reaches almost 19 more years. That means that approximately 71 million baby boomers that turn 65 in the coming years will live for almost two more decades.

Although boomers will probably outlive their grandparents, does that mean they're healthier than their ancestors? When comparing today's senior adults to those a century ago, the results are in the favor of baby boomers. Thanks to vaccines and antibiotics, baby boomers are less likely to be vulnerable to infectious diseases or suffer acute illness. Persistent diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, for example, surface 10 to 25 years later in life now. Disability rates have declined, and the quality of life is better.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.