Why Are So Many Boomers Dying of Despair?

Millions of boomers will not live longer than their parents.  In fact, in some communities the death rate of boomers in their fifties and their sixties rivals the death rate of the AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s.

Angus Deaton, who co-authored a paper exploring the results of their study found that lower income and high school educated boomers death rates were rising. Deaton, who won the 2015 Nobel laureate in economic in 2015,  said, “Drugs and alcohol, and suicide . . . are clearly the proximate cause…Half a million people are dead who should not be dead,” he added. “About 40 times the Ebola stats. You’re getting up there with HIV-AIDS.”

What makes this especially troubling is that while the overall death rate in the United States is going down, boomer men who lost jobs or are in the early stages of retirement seem to be the most vulnerable.  Since 2007 the suicide rate for people age 40 to 64 increased by 40%.  78% of the 41,000 suicides in the U.S. in 2013 were men.

What seems to be the source of this onslaught of despair?  While the more affluent boomers have successfully weathered the storm of the Great Recession since 2008, less educated boomers are still feeling its effects.

While we are experiencing a real estate boom in many of our major cities, 15% of American are still underwater, owing more money than their home is worth.

Even more troubling for boomers in all economic levels, is the growing realization that their children  are  worse off economically than they were at the same age.  Millennials, the children and grandchildren of boomers, are earning 20% less than the boomer generation did when the boomers were in their thirties. As millions of boomers look to the future, they are not finding a path that leads to opportunity and purpose.

J. D. Vance in his bestselling book, Hillbilly Elegy, chronicles his rise from poverty.  In the introduction he  says, “I want people to know what it feels like to nearly give up on yourself and why you might do it. I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family and I encountered it…And I want people to understand something I learned only recently: that for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.” (Hillbilly Elegy, p. 2)

As churches and other groups look at the challenges that boomers face as they age, they must first come to realize that their attitudes, beliefs, and actions are primarily based on how they experienced life as they were growing up.  Boomer Spirituality: Seven Values for the Second Half of Life,  focuses on four spiritual values that emerge from the events of the sixties and seventies, Brokenness, Loneliness, Rootlessness, and Self-Seeking.  These values still inform the lives of boomers. 

Before you begin to plan ministries and programs to connect with boomers, you first need to know their history.  Even though they are heading into retirement, the way they are facing the future is deeply affected by their past.

Join Craig Kennet Miller for a webinar on The Spiritual Roots of Boomers on Tuesday, January 31st at 7:00 PM Central (8:00 PM Eastern, 5:00 pm Pacific).


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