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Published: Saturday, 4/7/2001

AARP's split personality

Washington lobbyists generally have envied representatives of the AARP, which stands for- or used to stand for- the American Association of Retired People. Their job was to get the goodies for the golden oldies who, as politicians frequently were reminded, vote in great numbers.

AARP, however, has something of a split personality. Its constituency cannot be divided into neat demographic patterns. People vary widely in age, physical and mental vigor, and leisure preferences. Many people of AARP age in fact continue to work.

Some 76 million Baby Boomers are now getting on in years, but as one consultant put it, “are kicking and screaming their way into this new life stage. They're much more sensitive to any suggestions they might not be who they once were.”

So a new publication called My.Generation, aimed at people between 45 and 55, has made its appearance on the nation's magazine racks. The people in what has been referred to as “middlescence” confess that they really dread getting Modern Maturity, AARP's well-edited publication for members. With people turning 50 in this country at the rate of one every eight seconds, that adds up to a demographic crisis for AARP, many of whose members don't realize that Modern Maturity is published in two versions, one for people presumed to be working and the other for those presumed to be retired. Age is the determinant apparently.

All this, of course, is merely another manifestation of the mortal dread in which many Americans hold the process of aging. They tend to forget that the single alternative to aging is far bleaker. So a recent article on the subject showed a Baby Boomer couple on a Harley-Davidson tearing down a deserted and pretty much rolled-up street in an Arizona retirement colony.

Salespeople for those retirement communities dwell on the joys of a new lifestyle based largely on recreation. A highlight of the day may be the exercise class at the health club. The mass media, whose appeal to segmented age groups, often overlooks the economic reality of who's doing most of the buying, are faced with a new problem. They have to cope with target audiences consisting of people unable to come to terms with the fact that they're getting on in years.

Travelers on high-adventure trips, which imply that one's only exercise won't just be walking to and from the restaurant, are always surprised when they encounter an 80-year-old, spry beyond his or her years, setting the pace on a strenuous trail. Age is real enough, but it often depends on one's state of mind.

Happy Middlescence, all you aging Baby Boomers. But bear in mind that Harley-Davidson will never invent anything that can outrun Father Time.

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