Americans less prepared for longer lives

Stanford project reveals people's readiness in health, finances, social connections

Americans of all age groups are exercising more and smoking less than they were five or 10 years ago.

But baby boomers are less connected socially than earlier generations of 55-to-64-year-olds, and millennials are significantly worse-off financially than 25-to-34-year-olds were a decade ago.

These are among the findings in a new Stanford University analysis of how well-prepared Americans are to take advantage of longer life spans in the 21st century.

Americans have gained nearly two decades of life expectancy since 1940 -- 20 years for women and 17 years for men.

The "Sightlines Project" report (Read the full report here) from the Stanford Center on Longevity, published in February, analyzed mountains of data to determine whether various age groups -- from 25 years to 75-plus -- are on target to be healthy enough and financially secure enough to live well in those additional years.

Researchers delved into three major indicators for thriving in old age: financial security, healthy living and social engagement. Drawing on data from eight nationally representative, decades-long studies involving more than 1.2 million Americans, they measured how different age groups are doing.

For example, the "healthy living" section examined factors like sufficient sleep, regular exercise, healthy diet and body-mass index and regular exercise as well as avoidance of behaviors including smoking, illegal drugs and excessive alcohol.

Researchers found a mix of positive and negative trends.

Smoking, the No. 1 cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., is declining in all age groups. Just under 30 percent of millennials aged 25 to 34 smoked in 2011, a decline of nearly 20 percent compared to 25-to-34-year-olds in 1999.

But when it comes to weight, even as more people are exercising, obesity continued to inch upward from 1999 to 2011. More than one in three Americans under age 75 are now obese.

The Stanford researchers looked at measures of social engagement, including people's interactions and support from family and friends, contact with neighbors, volunteering, working for pay and participating in religious and community organizations. Having meaningful relationships and group involvement correlate with significant benefits in physical and mental health as well as longevity, the report said.

"We were really surprised by the current cohort of 55-to-64-year-olds, part of the baby boom generation," said Amy Yotopoulos, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity's Mind Division.

"Compared to their cohorts from 20 years ago, they're much less socially engaged -- less likely to be connected to a spouse or partner, family, friends, communities. That was kind of shocking to us that that particular group would be seemingly socially isolated."

Yotopoulos said other findings that surprised her were that exercise is up among all age groups -- but so is sedentary behavior, a risk factor for poor health.

"So a lot of us do our 30 minutes on the treadmill and then sit for the next eight to 10 hours," she said.

Martha Deevy, who directs the Financial Security Division of the Center on Longevity, said one of the most surprising findings to her was "the overall state of the millennials compared to the same age group 15 years ago.

"It is troubling," Deevy said. "While much has been written about student debt, looking at the overhang of debt across other financial decisions was troubling. For example, college-educated kids are coming out of school with far more student debt, and they delay buying a home.

"We don't know for certain it's due to student debt -- it could be other factors -- but we do know that delaying important financial decisions has a long-term impact."

The Sightlines Project found that financial security is down for all age groups except for people older than 65.

"More than one out of three 25-to-34-year-olds were living in or near poverty levels in 2014," the report said. The report defined poverty as 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is currently $11,880 for individuals and $16,020 for a family of two.

Deevy said the Center on Longevity hopes to spark a discussion of the issues raised and plans to update the statistics in the Sightlines Project every five years. Researchers intentionally chose metrics for the project that people or policymakers can change, either through altering individual behavior or through reforming government policy, she said.

The project, Stanford President John Hennessy said in a statement, "provides a data-driven analysis for researchers, industries and the public sector to use as the nation begins to capitalize on one of the greatest opportunities of our times" -- longer life spans.


How prepared are different age groups to live long lives? Test your knowledge with the Weekly's quiz.


The Palo Alto Weekly has created an archive of past news articles, resources and other content for Palo Alto seniors. To view it, go to

Contributing Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at

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13 people like this
Posted by oldster
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 4, 2016 at 10:28 am

I'm one of those just over 65ers -- baby boom generation. It's true that I'm more socially isolated than even my 90 year old mother. We are busy with demanding careers, and tended to make friends at work. When the work changes ends, so do the friendships. I don't know my neighbors at all -- we live in big houses with TV and computer to keep us busy, so we never go outside and see anyone close by. Too bad.

9 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 4, 2016 at 12:18 pm

Very interesting and accurate, I assume, as far as studies go, but sometimes I think studies need to be studied. What is their purpose? To tell us things we didn't know before and are now shocked by with the results? No guidance or direction given to go along with the study to change things so that in 5 years there will have been significant changes made for the better that will be reflected in the studies updated results?

I'm happy and feel blessed to be a 79 year old geezer that had the good fortune of making a right decision, moving to PA in 1961, and having the 'good life', living here in PA since then,and with with many friends thru many organizations, great neighbors, et al. It sounds like today's family's home life is so much more different and difficult than when we were raising our family. They both need to work hard at good paying jobs, et al. I hope we did a good job of raising our kids in our era...just a generation of time to make any difference.

That has changed as time has gone by and that I now have outlived many of my friends. So, as transitions happen, I'm thankful that I've been able to adapt to the current situation. Yes, many friends are gone, but that's new incentive to find new ones. You just can't stop living....until you have to.

3 people like this
Posted by coooper
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2016 at 8:44 pm

Get a dog. Walk your dog in the neighborhood twice a day.

2 people like this
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 5, 2016 at 12:28 am

I don't think my generation (born 1947) will outlive their "wealth." We're all dropping like flies from cancer.

2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2016 at 9:08 pm

I'm guessing most people aren't getting the necessary sleep these days due to technology - computers, Netflix, social media, etc. And it's questionable if people are eating well due to packaged foods and busy parents. People under age 25 these days are less sociable due to social media where they have their eyes glued to their phones and keep in contact with their friends instead of being forced to meet new people or interact with the general public. I have children in college and even the dorms aren't what they used to be with lots of interaction. And here in Palo Alto, the high school students have so much schoolwork and college prep that they don't have much time to socialize.

As far as finances, I find a lot of Americans don't think about saving for their futures and often spend frivolously. Maybe not so much in Palo Alto, because most are housepoor intellectuals, but in general, American spending habits are not thoughtful. People are strung-out on credit cards without thoughts about their future. They forget that they will age and be unable to continue working. "Most Americans have less than $1000 in savings": Web Link More than ever, Californians should have more access to the UCs. A college degree is no guarantee of a job that pays high enough to buy a house, as in former generations. Certainly, most of our PAUSD students will not be able to afford a house in Silicon Valley.

I think part of the problem with American spending is that children learn how to spend from their parents. Plus, giving children allowances does not make them fiscally responsible - it's quite the opposite - they think of ways to spend their money. "You earned it - you can buy anything you want," says the parent. It simply starts the habit of thinking of how to spend money. Our children never had chores or allowances and they are fiscally responsible because they learned their spending habits from us (buy on sale, find the lowest price, ponder if you REALLY need the item). When they go on trips with debit cards or money, they never spend it all. I could give them free rein of my credit card without worry. Fiscal responsibility is learned from the parents.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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