Aging in America: The Two Cultures

Back in pre-disruptive times, aging for professionals was a predictable experience: We retired. That was it. If we still talked about working we were written off as living in the past. Neighbors rolled their eyes. Then ducked us. After all, we were making a poor adjustment to the golden years.

That was then.

Aging & Working

Now, so many of us aging have the financial pressure to continue working. There is the real possibility that we will run out of money. It’s shrewd to scramble to prevent that by ensuring earned income continues to come in.

In addition, we have witnessed how the retired become invisible and isolated. At social events, the glad-handing is with those still in the game. This is capitalism. You are what you do. The exceptions are those with great personal wealth who can maintain an identity of philanthropist or socialite.

Retired & Content

The retired, on the other hand, move more and more away from the daily happenings in their former industries. That’s the way it should be.

Initially the adjustment may be difficult. For instance, their names are no longer in the trade media. No invitations come to deliver speeches. And they have to become accustomed to living on a budget.

Eventually, they tend to find a new path to contentment. They enjoy their grandchildren. Posting photos on Facebook is the new must-routine. The rub is that their new lives aren’t aligned with what we the working aging need and want. We dread the seeming social obligation to “like” those multi-generational Facebook montages.

Culture Clash

That’s when the two groups can wind up clashing in just about every aspect of life. Hostilities can flare up on both sides.

As a result, aging in America has bifurcated into two culures: the working and the retired. Tensions between those differing force fields are accelerating.

We working are focused on being able to stay in a game tilted toward youth and total at-homeness with technology. That means we have to hustle probably even more than when we were developing expertise and “getting ahead.”

As in our past, our social life has to be (crassly) bundled with the demands of creating a good living. Making nice with those who can’t provide data, insight, and contacts is, brutally put, a waste of time. Networking has always been a grim business. In this phase of our career, that ‘s more so: Time is no longer on our side.

Flashes of Rage

The retired lawyer, so proud of what he’s picking up in his gourmet cooking class, can feel our impatience. There is Working Me behind him in the supermarket line.

He wants to gush about the effect of a certain herb. My mind is racing for a fresh angle on positioning and packaging training services for a client’s white paper. His being probably is consumed with how much he deserves his new leisure. Mine is totally consumed with making a buck as well as continuing to grow my business.


The solution?

Right now, the burden is on the working aging to not dominate socializing with professional matters. Americana tends to default into silos. The aging are kept separate from Generations X, Y, and Z. Therefore, others over-60 are our peer group. That’s just the way it is.

If we ourselves don’t want to become cut off socially, we have to get the hang of not talking about work all the time. In youth and middle age, that was not only allowed but demanded. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been taken seriously.

In addition, we older professionals are still a new introduction to Americana. It’s shrewd public relations to go low profile on our work activities.

Smiling, Like Mom Told Us

What about when attacked by the retired? It happens all the time. The usual form it takes is: “It’s sad you still have to work. Didn’t you save?”

Don’t engage. Do what Mom told us: Smile. Confrontation distracts us from making a good living. And, you bet, that’s possible, no matter what age we are.

Jane Genova ( is a ghostwriter/speechwriter.

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