Nina Smith

Out and Aging: Gay and Lesbian Boomers

Filed By Nina Smith | September 14, 2007 7:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: boomers, lgbt aging, retirement

Learning to Love Growing Old is a dated but useful article that appeared in Psychology Today back in 1994. Jere Daniel writes, “We fear and deny aging, because we fear and deny death. In our denial of death and the aging of the body, we have rejected the wisdom of the aged, and in doing so have robbed old age of its meaning and youth of its direction.”

We pretend that old age can be turned into a kind of endless middle age, thereby giving young people a false road map to the future, one that does not show them how to plan for their whole life, gain insight into themselves, or to develop spiritually.

The signs of denial and anxiety over aging permeate every aspect of our lives. We have no role models for growing old gracefully, only for postponing it. For example:

1. The vast dependence on plastic surgery specifically to hide the visual signs of aging is arguably the sharpest index of our anxiety.

2. The negative view of aging is disastrously reinforced by the media.

It seems there is particular pressure on mature gay men about reversing effects of growing older. Ramon Johnson, the Gay Life writer at About.com writes:

Over time, the age of desirability for gay men seems to get younger and younger. Some gay men also argue that other gays continue to search for the ‘fountain of youth’ with plastic surgery, eating disorders, excessive gym hours and am obsession with body image.

I once heard a saying that the only thing worse than being young and poor was being old and poor. Although gay men might struggle more with the aging process, they have done a better job at being financially self-sufficient in their golden years than lesbians.

Last year, The MetLife Mature Market Institute published an interesting study about: Out and Aging: The MetLife Study of Gay and Lesbian Boomers and they noted key gender differences in the LGBT community compared with the general population:

  1. Lesbian women are more concerned than gay men about their financial stability as they age and report being less financially prepared for retirement than gay men. Lesbian women are notably less likely to have purchased long-term care insurance.
  2. Twenty-seven percent of the LGBT group report great concern about discrimination as they age and less than half expressed strong confidence that they will be treated with “dignity and respect” by healthcare professionals. Fears of insensitive and discriminatory treatment are particularly strong among lesbians; 12% said they have absolutely no confidence that they will be treated respectfully.
  3. Men are more likely than women to be concerned with being alone (43% versus 36%), becoming sick or disabled (59% versus 50%) and losing the ability to care for themselves (76% versus 68%).
  4. One half (51%) of all LGBT baby boomers, and women in particular, have yet to complete their will, living will or other similar legal directive, despite the fact that LGBT couples and families currently lack legal protection.

“At the same time, many of the baby boomers surveyed felt that their experiences as LGBT people actually have helped them prepare for aging. This finding is consistent with other research: Several studies over the last four decades have found that gay men and lesbians who have navigated the challenges of the coming-out process tend to cope successfully with other life crises and losses as they age.”

So our LGBT identities have supposedly given us greater resilience in coping with the ups and down of growing old, but all the research still points to lesbians needing to crank it into high gear when it comes to planning for retirement.

We should all make it a priority in to work with a financial advisor, start reading a few books, and take the appropriate steps to be financially self-sufficient in old age. Life has a way of sneaking up on us… I can accept the wrinkles. I can’t accept feeling financially strapped or burdened in old age. It just takes a little planning now.

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Nina blogs about money over at Queercents.


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take the appropriate steps to be financially self-sufficient in old age

What are the appropriate steps - other than see a financial advisor and read a few books? I don't think I have enough money to need a financial advisor. The only advice they can give is "pay your damn bills" or maybe they can help decide which bill to pay. :)

This is a *very* important and *very* difficult issue for the GLBT community to discuss --- and as pointed out, it is one of those issues that we *dread* to discuss!

Nina, your post brings up two facets of this issue: (1) The GLBT community itself participates in its own folly when it encourages the notions that a) only young people have social value, and b) youth is a stage of life that is to be artifically extended ad infinituum; and (2) even if one summons up the courage to "plan for retirement, talk to a financial planner, and read a few books", there is still the question of how does one go about planning, which financial planner should we be working with, and which books should we be reading? ... for while there is a dirth of info targeted toward aging LGBT's, there is an ocean of info targeted for hetero couples ... and mcuh of it is old school, and much of it is also contradictory.

Obviously, today's economy is in a state of transition --- getting a degree from an Ivy League school, landing a high-paying job, and working for the same company for 45 years so that you get a comfortable pension and company-paid health care throughout your retirement is not a realistic career plan in today's world --- unless you plan to work for the US Post Office, and even the post office is changing.

So ... although this post is very relevant, it hardly scratches the surface when it comes to identifying any useful answers. The answer that I have selected for myself is that a more entrepreneurial approach is needed ... but I have not succeeded (yet) in making that approach work for me. Check back with me in twenty years ... if I'm still above ground.

Bil and A.J.,

Those are both great points and there isn't an easy answer. But working with a financial advisor is truly a first and best step.

Here are two posts that you might find helpful:

1. When Do You Need a Financial Planner
2. How to Pick a Financial Planner

I will try to answer some of your other questions in upcoming posts.