By Richard Eisenberg
I’m writing this unretirement column three days after turning 66 (and four months before reaching my Social Security “Full Retirement Age”). So, my 70s are just around the corner. Until recently, that gave me pause.
But after seeing what people in their 70s said in the recent AARP/National Geographic “ Second Half of Life Study ” and interviewing seven experts on aging — four between 70 and 81 — I’m now looking forward to my next decade.
After reading what I learned, I think you might become more enthusiastic about prospects for your 70s, too. (A few of today’s celebrity septuagenarians: Jeff Goldblum, Mick Jagger, Dolly Parton, Helen Mirren and Bruce Springsteen.)
‘A kind of golden decade’
“You could really say the 70s are kind of a golden decade right now,” said Neil Wertheimer, the 60-something editor of AARP’s article about its survey of 2,580 U.S. adults who also helped shape its questions.
When asked to imagine their quality of life as a ladder with 10 steps, people in their 70s told AARP and National Geographic they were standing on a higher step than what those of all younger ages said.
The level of happiness and optimism of respondents in their 70s “was far higher than we expected,” Wertheimer told me.
Happiness now spikes in your 70s, generally speaking, according to the survey: 90% of respondents in their 70s said they were happy, compared with 81% in their 60s and 80% in their 40s.
“What this said to us was ‘My life right now is very good and I’m not expecting it, and the world, to get better necessarily. But I don’t need it to because I found my peace, I found my sense of purpose and I have learned to live within my means,’” Wertheimer says.
Some 51% of those surveyed in their 70s were optimistic about their future.
“The key surprise is that older people have remained doggedly optimistic, even post-COVID,” says “The Super Age” author Bradley Schurman.
Your 70s: The Generation X of decades
And yet, despite all this happiness and optimism, I’d call our 70s the Generation X of decades — frequently overlooked.
These 10 years get far less attention than either our 60s, when retirement often starts and Medicare and Social Security kick in, or our 80s, generally seen as when problems of frailty, mobility and cognition arise.
“Our 70s are a time period that has been, in some ways, underemphasized.” says Karl Pillemer, the Cornell University gerontologist, 67, who’s author of “30 Lessons for Living” and has led The Legacy Project, collecting life lessons of people 65+.
Helen Dennis, the 81-year-old writer of the Successful Aging syndicated column jokes that the decade of your 70s “gets you from 60 to 80, like the highway in between.”
Notes Pillemer: “Because society is so ageist, people envision life after 70 to be this kind of Dickensian horror. And we heard over and over [in Legacy Project interviews] that it turns out, for most, to be much better—it’s an extraordinary surprise. It’s a potentially, really rich time in the life course.”
Maybe it’s time for our 70s to get some love.
Recognizing what’s of value in life
Paul Irving, a Milken Institute Senior Fellow and former Chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, calls our 70s “this wonderful little window in which we really recognize, more than any other time in life, what’s important — what’s really of value.”
Irving, the author of “The Upside of Aging” who recently turned 70, notes: “I think I have a different, and frankly more sophisticated and nuanced ability [than when I was younger] to see through challenges and understand the range of solutions that can be brought to bear and not be intimidated by the complexities of work or the complexities of life. I don’t think I’m unusual in that regard.”
Pillemer says our 70s is an important time “for people to engage in experiences they want to remember, and lay the groundwork for the rest of the last third of their life.”
A period of regeneration when you make the effort
Dennis believes your 70s can be a period of regeneration and opportunity, if you make it so (as she did).