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27 Sep 2023

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The baby boom was a period of significantly increased and relatively high fertility, which occurred in New Zealand between the mid-1940s and the early 1970s.

The large numbers of baby boomers (born 1946-1964) were due to the high birth rates which New Zealand along with Australia, Canada and United States experienced during the two decades immediately following World War II.

New Zealand, however, was quite exceptional in the size of its boom relative to these other countries which, of course, now means that the demographic and fiscal challenges our country faces as the baby boomers reach old age, are somewhat larger as well.

They are important demographically because of their numbers, and the distinctive bulge, which this cohort of people represent in the New Zealand population.

Demographers describe this as ''a pig in a python,” or a massive protuberance in an otherwise slender age distribution, gradually sliding down the age distribution as boomers get older. As the snout of the pig approaches the python's nether regions, it poses a big problem. One that is only growing.

From the 2018 Census, Statistics New Zealand estimated those 65+ years made up 15% of the population, and projected growth to 21% of the population by 2028. A New Zealand based economics commentator Diana Clement (2021) pointed out that ‘with people living longer we could soon see three generations in one family in retirement all at the same time: aged at 65, 85, and 105 years respectively.’

The swelling of the retired population brings into focus what’s known as ‘the dependency ratio’, this means how many workers the country has for every person not in the workforce. As the baby boomer population ages those not in the workforce will increasingly be retirees. In 2021 that ratio was around 4.4 people working for every retiree, whereas by 2058 the dependency ratio is predicted to be 2.8 workers for every retiree. (Peter Cordtz, Acting Retirement Commissioner, 2021).

In New Zealand, in 2022 the population aged 65+ was estimated to be 842,000 people. The number of people aged 65+ years is increasing by about 80 people per day. The number of 65+ year olds is projected to reach 1 million by 2028, 1.3 million by 2040, and 1.5 million by 2050. (Statistics New Zealand, 2022).

Consequently the proportions of the total population 85+ are also rapidly increasing; in 2022 it was estimated 1 in 50 of New Zealand’s total population were 85+ years, this is projected to increase to 1 in 30 during the 2030’s, and further increase during the 2040’s to about 1 in 20. (Statistics New Zealand, 2022).

There are concerns New Zealand may not have the staff or the infrastructure to meet the variety of demands of a disproportionately large ageing population.

For example, those involved with the age care sector warn the Baby Boomers have arrived and are still coming. Putting extra stress on a sector that has already reached crisis point.

The New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) who currently provide 93%, or around 40,000 beds from New Zealand’s aged residential care sector, has gone on record as saying they’d rather close beds than compromise the quality of care.

But while the number of beds may decrease from closures, the ageing population continues to increase. At the same time medical discoveries continually improve the quality of life, keep people alive longer, and with ever more complex combinations of long-term conditions (commonly referred to as chronic co-morbidities).

Right now the 40,000 beds in care homes around the country, and based on the above population projections, are unlikely to meet the needs of those who cannot live independently and require additional levels of care.

Will the Baby Boomers requiring the additional levels of care quietly accept without creating waves, the current model of age care and its current and burgeoning challenges? Given their characteristics that is unlikely.

A Victoria University of New Zealand researcher Kathy Glasgow (2015) stated that “Boomers grew up through a period of rapid social change. They were exposed to a broadening of possibilities so they expect a choice in how they create their own lifestyles in old age.

While boomers are expecting to work longer and know they need to prepare financially for their old age, they want to do it in their own way. If there’s any sense of being forced or coerced through policy decision making, there’ll be strong resistance. Boomers value independence and self-reliance. But like their parents before them, there’s still an underlying sense that it’s the state’s responsibility to care for older people who are in need.

Although many boomers said they were looking forward to reducing work hours their key emphasis was on work-life balance. The underlying values that came through were about choice—being able to choose where they live, who they live with, as well as what lifestyle they led. Flexibility, such as more control over hours and opportunities to work from home, were important too.

Boomers expected to lead an active lifestyle in their older age. However there were some fears about growing old and health was definitely one of them. There was also an optimism amongst boomers, that they could transform their own experience through leading a healthy lifestyle” (Baby boomers open up about old age, Kathy Glasgow, 2015).

Ain’t trying to cause a big sensation, just talking about my generation.

Compared to previous generations, baby boomers have created an era of freedom and fought for social change. They fought for women's rights, gay rights and civil rights and aimed for social equality. They created their own versions of service and volunteering.

Characteristics may vary from culture to culture but collectively the group are defined as:

  • Strong and focused work ethic. Baby boomers are typically hard-working individuals who often define themselves by their professional accomplishments.
  • Independent.
  • Competitive.
  • Goal-oriented.
  • Resourceful.
  • Experienced.
  • Self-assured.
  • Value relationships.

On a final note, the Boomer spirit is captured in this ‘sensational’ version of The Who song that started the whole thing off. - View this on YouTube - The Zimmers "My Generation" 

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Date Published: September 2023

To be reviewed: September 2026