It's been described as a "pig moving through a python." The Japanese call it the Silver Century. Whatever the metaphor, the baby-boomer generation is approaching the age group developmental psychologists euphemistically call the "young-old." The very large cohort born between 1946 and 1964 has already begun to redefine aging. As the generation who embraced the slogan "never trust anyone over 30," they are decidedly mixed in their reactions to its converse, "life begins at 60."
Like the rest of American society and most industrialized societies around the world, APA is turning silver. The modal ages for members and fellows are 55-59 and 70+, respectively. There are significant societal implications to the burgeoning demographics of aging for which we, as psychologists, need to be prepared. We also need to be prepared as an association to meet the needs of a large number of our own members who will be making changes--or at least thinking about making changes--in how and how much we work and how we use our knowledge and skills as we age.
One of my presidential initiatives focuses on the problems and opportunities for psychologists as we reinvent the process of working/retiring as we grow older. What information and services do psychologists want from APA as we plan, for example, to sell a practice, reduce the time spent on academic careers, close an animal laboratory or leave a longtime position at an institution, to name just a few possible examples? How can psychologists continue to use their skills and abilities in ways that make a difference into old age? What is your identity when, after a 30-year career, someone with a familiar face greets you at the market with, "Didn't you used to be Dr. Garcia?" And, perhaps the first question the near-55-and-higher crowd is asking, "Can I afford to reduce the number of hours I work as I grow old?" There will be many different paths through retirement, and for many of us, social and financial security will mean continued employment into old age.
In the mid 1990s, APA's Committee on Women in Psychology surveyed older psychologists and found that work arrangements varied by gender, with older women more likely to stay employed and to work more hours as they grew older. Many respondents reported they wished to continue contributing to the field after retirement. One of the recommendations from this study was that "APA...should mobilize the strengths and experiences of older psychologists by creating volunteer opportunities." My presidential initiative on retiring is following up on that recommendation.
A talented group of psychologists--the Retiring Psychologists initiative--is working to determine what resources older psychologists need and want as they plan for retiring ('ing" is used to connote a continuous process, instead of the older notion that work stops at one point in time), so that psychologists can find and keep meaningful work as they age.
The initiative is chaired by Bob Johnson, retired from Umpqua Community College, and a list of its members can be found at my presidential initiatives Web page. A new survey for the old-young and young-old APA members, prepared by Judith Sugar at the University of Nevada, Reno, and other Retiring Psychologists initiative members will be sent to a sample of APA members in April and May.
At a recent meeting, the chairs of APA's boards and committees came up with a long list of great ideas about what their constituents might want from APA if they work fewer hours or change how they work. The list includes travel groups, information about selling a practice, access to health and liability insurance that is available for part-time employment, opportunities for job sharing, elder hostel arrangements, targeted continuing education, retirement preparation workshops, membership databases that could be searched by Zip code to identify local retirees for book clubs and other activities, and even psychologist retirement homes (which led to a host of inevitable jokes about whether this was really a set-up for a sitcom).
They also had much to offer in return, such as mentoring early career psychologists, participating in speakers' bureaus for high schools and colleges, assisting in volunteer corps for underserved areas, serving as recruiters for APA, providing online assistance with data analysis, and establishing an expertise database, to name a few. I thank John Cavanaugh, Greg Hinrichsen and other members of the Committee on Aging who offered to continue this initiative after my presidential year.
Every group in APA will be affected by the demographics of aging. As some psychologists retire, new employment and leadership opportunities will open to our graduate students. In fact, perhaps ironically, the greatest growth field of all will be in those fields that deal with aging--cognitive processes of aging, grieving and loss, keeping healthy and active, retirement communities, and making workplaces friendly for older workers.