Yes, the 78-million-strong post-war generation is the largest demographic in America. Yes, its oldest members are turning 65 this year. Yes, it’s a pretty big deal.
Nearly without exception, the mainstream media casts the “aging” of the baby boom as a looming fiscal and social catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions. The numbers, they tell us, do not lie — there are too many boomers growing too old, too unprepared for retirement, too expensive for the healthcare system to manage and too much for the economy to sustain without collapsing.
I’m not denying the numbers. After all, we’ve known the basic math for more than 50 years. But the future is not enshrined in statistical projections. Numbers may not lie, but they change. Tomorrow’s reality rarely matches the predictions made my experts and the news media today.
For example, at the peak of the subprime mortgage meltdownin January 2008 a report predicted that an even bigger threat was facing the housing market in the not-too-distant future — baby boomers. Sound familiar? The Wall Street Journal breathlessly blogged:
About to wreak havoc on the housing market are the 78 million American baby boomers who will “retire, relocate, and eventually withdraw from the housing market,” according to report authors Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography in the School of Policy, Planning and Development at the University of Southern California.
Using demographic data to show that individuals in their mid-60s tend to sell more often than buy, the authors contend that when boomers — a “dominant force in the housing market” — start reaching the age of 65 in the year 2011, a market shift will occur. Some retirees will be looking to downsize, others will relocate to warmer climes, while others will move to nursing homes, says Mr. Myers. As they transition out of the housing market or look to sell their homes, in some states there will be “more homes available for sale than there are buyers for them.” Home prices will soften.
Good job Mr. Myers. Your predication was dead on. But your age-based rationale was dead wrong.