Maria Palacios, 55, has reached a point in her life when she has just the right balance. Three days a week, she works as a CPA in her own business from her Miami home. The other two, she cares for her grandson Gabriel, who lights up when he sees grandma come through the door with her play calculator. • Getting to this point took endurance. It required going to school, raising two kids and forging a career path, while relying on a patchwork of child care. But now that Palacios sits comfortably in her mid 50s, she's part of a demographic group that has researchers intrigued. Called "middle boomers," this group is a whopping 29 million strong and has entered its 50s with a shift in priorities.
Most are married, working, and in their peak earning years. Yet, they are looking at work-life balance from a different perspective: focusing less on career and earnings and more on family and personal well-being, new research from MetLife shows.
"They are trying to find meaning and purpose in their lives," said Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
For middle boomers, focus on family stems from circumstance and makes them distinctive. They are not yet empty-nesters like the older boomers. Nor are they carefree like younger generations.
Many are caring for multiple generations. Two-thirds have at least one parent living, and half still have children living at home. Some even have grandparents alive, and many have grandchildren themselves.
Caring for multiple generations has advantages. It keeps middle boomers busy and active in body and mind, and grounded in their long-term goals.
• • •
At 56, Margarita Pardo Abrisham, publisher/editor in chief of Vive magazine in West Palm Beach, has come to appreciate balancing work and life as a mother, daughter and wife. After putting in years of work to make her magazine successful, she wants to spend time with the various generations in her family.
Even as she expands her business to put on women's conferences, she says she still carves out time to visit with her 80-something parents in Miami and recently flew out of town on short notice when her 25-year-old daughter needed mom. Family is the reason she is shifting priorities to focus on health. "I want to be there for future generations."
• • •
There's a general consensus among middle boomers that 50 is the new 30. For the majority, turning 50 was no big deal, and they do not feel that they will actually be old until age 75. Of course, most are now including a focus on well-being into their work/life routines.
Zina Foyer, an attendant at Salon Savvy in Plantation, turned 50 a month ago. She works about 45 hours a week and says she exercises three days a week, takes vitamins and eats healthier foods. Foyer says for the first time, she also sees retirement in the distance. It has changed her spending habits. "I'm really not shopping anymore. I'm putting away money for retirement."
From a financial standpoint, most middle boomers would like to retire at age 65. But more than half feel that they are behind in their retirement savings. That could be because the majority of them are still providing for their grown children, grandchildren or a parent. A staggering number, 72 percent, have provided financial support averaging about $38,000 over the past five years to their adult kids or grandkids. Timmermann of MetLife believes that many middle boomers will work until they are 70.
• • •
Inside the homes of middle boomers, conversations are changing. Discussions about guilt over travel and long work hours are being replaced by future retirement concerns, such as affording health care costs and remaining productive.
Jim Gress, the 52-year-old executive director of Covenant House Florida, has experienced that change. With his youngest daughter going to college in the fall, talks with his wife are turning to retirement planning.
At work, middle boomers likely are considered employees who are valued because of their experience. "I think they are looking at someone like myself saying, 'He probably is not going to run off looking for the next opportunity,' " Gress says. He believes middle boomers want personal fulfillment from their work and or look to bring value to an organization, community or society. Retiring to golf or fish are not their goals. They want to stay involved with community, and business, as volunteers or part-time workers.
Palacios, 55, says she is able to prioritize work and a personal life — even during busy tax season. She doesn't see a return to full-time work, nor does she envision a day when she will fully retire. She intends to always have at least one client. "I think most of us are at the point in our lives when we know we have to love what we do, and we plan to do it for a long time."