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As the first of 78 million baby boomers turn 65 this year, the discussion about longer lives in America has been entirely about the staggering economic costs of a dramatically aging society. But in a game-changing new book – The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife (PublicAffairs; Publication date: April 5, 2011; $24.99) – renowned social entrepreneur Marc Freedman argues that we’re having an extraordinarily hard time acknowledging the obvious: We’re clearly all getting older, but most of us are not getting old … at least not yet.
Freedman’s book is an impassioned call for breaking free from old habits like clinging to lost youth (“60 is the new 40”), or prematurely aging people long before their time (senior discounts at 50 or 60). It’s time to accept the decades opening up between midlife and anything approximating old age for what they really are, Freedman says – an entirely new stage of life.
The emergence of this encore stage and the population explosion flooding into it challenge accepted wisdom that America is, in fact, an aging society, Freedman argues. This new-stage cohort of people who are neither young nor old dwarfs the size of the elderly population. People in this new stage constitute America’s real demographic revolution, Freedman says.
Freedman states that 100 years ago, social forces and strong leaders created another new stage of life – adolescence. With it came all kinds of societal, cultural and institutional supports – high school guidance counselors and college scholarships, internships and summer jobs, gap year programs. But unlike the transition from adolescence to adulthood, he says, the transition from midlife to this new encore stage is a do-it-yourself project with little guidance, few role models and scarce resources.
The Big Shift is animated by a simple premise: that the challenge of transitioning to and making the most of this new stage – while deeply personal – is much more than an individual problem; it’s an urgent social imperative, one affecting all generations. The Big Shift issues a call to create the new stage and offers a set of prescriptions for realizing this opportunity. Imagine the windfall of talent that could result, Freedman says, helping carry us toward a new generation of solutions for growing problems in areas like education, the environment and health care.
Combining the perspectives of an anthropologist and a psychologist, an historian and a sociologist, The Big Shift offers a comprehensive understanding of the massive change we are experiencing and, unlike anything else out there, proposes solutions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marc Freedman is founder and CEO of Civic Ventures, a think tank on boomers, work and social purpose. A frequent commentator in the national media, he is the author of Encore, Prime Time and The Kindness of Strangers. Freedman spearheaded the creation of Experience Corps and The Purpose Prize. He lives in San Francisco.