Systematic Literature Review Article | Open Access

Exploring the quality of life for baby boomers using a systematic literature review

Tracy Carpenter-Aeby, Victor Aeby*, Angela Castro, Sheresa Newsome and Shamesa Teel

Author Affiliations

*Corresponding author: Victor Aeby
Associate Professor, Department of Health Education and Promotion, East Carolina University, 408 S. Eastern Street, Greenville, NC 27858, USA; Tel. 252-702-7853; Fax: 328-1285; E-mail: aebyv@ecu.edu

Received: February 20th, 2017; Accepted: March 6th, 2017; Published: March 10th, 2017

Med Clin Press. 2017; 1(1): 4-11. doi: 10.28964/MedClinPress-1-102

Ⓒ 2017 Copyright by Aeby V, et al. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).

ABSTRACT

Within the next decade, the largest cohort in the world, the Baby Boomers, will be transitioning into aging and retirement. By the year 2030, 74 million Americans will be aged 65 and older. While the currently available literature provides insight into the unique characteristics of Baby Boomers as well as the factors that affect their quality of life, there is limited material that presents this in a cohesive manner. The aim of this literature review is to determine how many articles illustrate how physical health; psychological health; functional health; social health; and financial wellbeing affect the quality of life of Baby Boomers. A systematic literature review (SLR) was utilized to identify relevant information and key research materials relating to the factors that affect the quality of life of the largest aging population in the world.

KEYWORDS: Baby boomers; Quality of life.

INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND TO THE REVIEW

The Baby Boomer generation presents unique challenges in the area of gerontology. It is anticipated that this large cohort will have unique demands and expectations with regard to service provisions as they age.1 By 2030, it is estimated that the number of adults aged 65 years and older will reach 74 million, with the major shift beginning in 2020 when the population of this group begins to steadily increase from 18 million. According to current U.S. Census estimates, by 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will be over the age of 65.2 Thus, the upcoming mass retirement/aging of the Baby Boomers will produce a sizable impact on many aspects of society. It is crucial that those in the helping professions recognize the needs of this population based on their unique characteristics to help them age successfully and achieve a better quality of life.1

During the period following World War II, high levels of immigration and rapid economic recovery spurred an explosion in population, which produced the cohort now known as the baby boomers. This cohort grew up during the 1960s and adopted very different attitudes and goals compared to their parents’ generation. As a group, they have influenced many social movements and have been distinctive in their persistence to advocate for justice and fairness, whether on a large or small scale. Therefore, compared to other generations, Baby Boomers are unique in their characteristics.3

A strong sense of individualism can be observed in the Baby Boomers in their high expectations and demands as consumers of services. Williamson et al states that, they are “better educated, more technologically literate, generally wealthier than any previous generation and has high expectations of quality services and products”.3(p. 54) Despite their strong drive for self-advocacy, the Baby Boomers are also known for their belief in egalitarianism as defined by the radical politics of the ‘60s, which focused on ending discrimination and fighting for equal recognition and rights.1 Boomers are also known as a cohort who wants to remain youthful and active through their later years. They will redefine the meaning of retirement and aging as many continue to lead very active lifestyles, stay involved in their communities, and remain employed past the age of 65.4 They, most likely, will be better prepared for retirement than generations before them and most of them are willing to pay for a better quality of life and to maintain their independence.5

Theories of successful aging emphasize remaining mentally and physically healthy in order to maintain independent functioning.6 Rowe and Kahn (1997) defined successful aging as: (1) the reduction of disease and disability; (2) the maintenance of high cognitive and physical functioning; and (3) active engagement in life. A successfully aged person, therefore, would be in very good health, cognitively intact, physically active, and socially engaged in life. While this is an ideal view of aging, the reality is that most elderly persons will encounter many barriers to meeting these criteria. In response to this, aging research has considerably broadened to include deeper dimensions of aging such as life satisfaction, happiness, perceived control, quality of life, empowerment, intrinsic motivation, and emotional self-regulation.7

According to the literature, the main factors that affect Baby Boomers’ quality of life are physical health, functional health, psychological health, social health, and financial wellbeing.7 While prior research provides insight into these factors, there appears to be limited data in the area of this generation’s current quality of life, especially with regard to financial wellbeing and financial readiness for retirement. Furthermore, there is a need to present research findings in a cohesive and holistic manner with the purpose of identifying key areas of need that need to be addressed within the next decade. Research shows that community-based programs and policies can successfully improve the quality of life of aging adults through carefully designed intervention methods.8

The aim of this literature review is to determine how many articles are available that explore the quality of life of Baby Boomers. A systematic literature review was utilized to identify relevant information and key research materials and to provide an unbiased and replicable representation of current knowledge with regard to this important topic.

METHODS

Framing Questions for Review

A systematic review (SLR) using the Cochrane Method was conducted to identify key professional literature on Baby Boomers’ quality of life. Systematic reviews are carefully organized, comprehensive, and transparent studies of previous research on a particular topic. This literature review focused on two keywords,: baby boomers and quality of life. A search was conducted on the databases of Academic Search Complete, ERIC, PsychINFO, PsychArticles, Social Work Abstracts, and SociINDEX with Full Text. Based on these databases and the two keywords, the authors found 243 articles. Academic search engines provided background information on generational characteristics, current population projections, and theories of successful aging. Upon extensive research, the authors found relevant articles that helped them address their research question: “How many articles are available to explore the quality of life of Baby Boomers?” within the context of the following attributes: physical health, functional health, psychological health, social health, and financial wellbeing.

Identifying Relevant Work

Table 1 shows the process of narrowing the list of articles from N=243 to N=20 by omitting books, magazines, and dissertations. As shown in Table 2, limiters were applied to develop the search parameters. Both U.S. and international scholarly, peer-reviewed articles were included, as the scope of this social issue is global. Articles published from 2005-2015 were chosen for review based on the time-dependent nature of this population in the context of aging. Articles prior to 2005 were not included in order to keep the literature review as current as possible. In order to study the variables that affect the quality of life for Baby Boomers, articles relating to physical health, functional health, psychological health, social health, and financial wellbeing were used. The authors collected the data and compiled it into the matrix.

Assessing the Quality of Studies

Articles reviewed by the authors of this research. As shown in Table 2, the authors began with articles (n=109) that met the criteria. These articles identify research using the key terms: quality of life and baby boomers. There were articles (n=89) that were eliminated following a face validity test. Each article was reviewed and assessed for relevance to the research question. Three MSW students assessed the qualities of the papers using the systematic approach. Papers were only included if published in English due to time and convenience, were scholarly and peer-reviewed articles, published on or after 2005, and primarily related to the quality of life of Baby Boomers. The authors developed a checklist based on the attributes relating to the quality of life of Baby Boomers and used it to assess the suitability of articles for inclusion in the literature review.

Summarizing the Evidence

As illustrated in Table 2, there is still very limited research with regard to the quality of life of Baby Boomers, not just in the United States but worldwide. Only 20 articles were found to be relevant to this review after a face validity test was conducted (as outlined above), indicating that there exists a need for more research on this topic. The synthesis of key articles (Table 1) was developed to provide a summary of each individual paper, to gain understanding of the content of the articles, and to identify emerging themes in the research. While there is limited research as to the factors that affect the quality of life for Baby Boomers, clear themes emerged as outlined underneath each study listing.

Interpreting the Findings

The authors used literature review sheets to summarize the key findings in each article. These articles were then categorized according to the attributes related to the quality of life of Baby Boomers to determine whether research supported these variables. Upon interpretation of the findings, the authors found that strong evidence supports that the quality of life of Baby Boomers are affected by physical, functional, psychological and social health. Financial wellbeing was not discussed thoroughly for the purposes of this paper, as adequate research was not found to support this particular factor. Articles that were clearly favored were those published by social work and gerontology journals. The authors made an effort to include articles from medical, public health, psychology and nursing journals in order to lessen the bias towards research from a purely social work perspective.

Table 1: Synthesis of key articles for baby boomers + quality of life + scholarly peer-reviewed + 2005-2015.

Table 2: Synthesis of keywords for baby boomers + quality of life.

RESULTS

Baby Boomers as an Aging Population

As reflected, key themes have emerged as a result of this literature review. While caring for the aging population is already a growing societal concern, the impact of the Baby Boomers as an aging generation will be a unique issue to tackle. People are living longer and helping them maintain a high quality of life is proving to be a big challenge.8 The Boomers are expected to have a life expectancy of almost 80 years, almost 30 years longer than those born in the 1900s. Furthermore, this cohort presents a unique challenge in that, while they are known to have strong community involvement and are strong advocates for social justice, they are also heavily burdened with stress.4 According to Hilton et al the Boomers are known as a “sandwich generation,” simultaneously caring for their aging parents and their children and/or grandchildren.7 This causes a significant amount of social, physical, psychological, and financial strain on this cohort.9 Further study is required to determine the unique needs of Boomers based on their characteristics to help them age successfully and achieve a better quality of life.1

Baby Boomers’ Quality of Life

Having a clear understanding of the impact of physical, functional, psychological, social health, and financial wellbeing can increase the quality life of baby boomers. These themes were supported by the variables gleaned from the literature as outlined in Table 2. While current research provides some information on these factors, there is limited data on the current quality of life of Baby Boomers, especially in the areas of financial wellbeing and financial readiness for retirement. Previous theories of successful aging have indicated that physical health, functional health, psychological health, and social health are significant factors that affect the quality of life of older adults. Financial wellbeing was found to be an important variable, and spiritual wellbeing was also recognized as an important attribute of psychological health in a study conducted by Hilton et al.7 The literature reveals various strategies of increasing the quality of life of Baby Boomers based on the attributes previously mentioned. These include various housing and community models, enhanced technology to deliver health care, transportation, and information services, volunteer programs, fitness strategies, social engagement, improvements in mental health and substance abuse services, health programs aimed at preventing and/or treating chronic health conditions, and positive coping strategies for ageing.

DISCUSSION

Summary of Findings

The purpose of this study was to illustrate the impact of the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, highlight the unique qualities and needs of Baby Boomers, and to determine the factors that make a difference in the quality of life of Baby Boomers in order for their needs to be identified. Only 20 articles were found to be relevant to this systematic literature review after a face validity test was conducted, indicating that there exists a need for more research on this particular topic. These articles revealed that five factors have been shown to affect the quality of life of Baby Boomers. Among the articles that were reviewed, 10 articles contained data related to physical health, 9 on psychological health, 12 on social health, and 7 on functional health. Two articles found in the course of this systematic review discussed the financial aspect of Baby Boomers’ experience of aging. However, this was mainly in the contexts of the financial burden Baby Boomers experience when caring for their parents who have Alzheimer’s Disease,9 and why women in their sixties have not yet retired or have chosen to still work part-time.

Interpretation of Findings

While there is limited research on the factors that affect the quality of life for Baby Boomers, clear themes did emerge during this review as outlined in Table 3 and as discussed below:

Maintaining physical health, according to Anderson et al,8 will be a public health challenge in the near future. While Baby Boomers generally have better reported satisfaction with health than other cohorts,10 their physical wellbeing may decline as they age. Therefore, it would be important for Baby Boomers to be in environments that encourage activity, socialization, and to have access to preventative health programs.11 They will not only require, but will demand very high quality of care due to their high expectations as a cohort. In fact, since most Boomers are highly educated, they are more likely to take charge in ensuring that their health-related quality of life is optimal.12Furthermore, it will be paramount to make sure that Baby Boomers have the opportunity to remain physically active and engaged within their community.7,13

Baby Boomers place great value in maintaining their independence. The latest developments in technology as well as future improvements can be explored as a means for them to remain in their homes and still be able to care for themselves. Boomers, in particular, appear to be adamant about remaining in their homes for as long as possible, especially since they do not want to become a burden to their families.5 Transportation assistance could also be explored to ensure the mobility of this generation when the time comes when driving is no longer an option. For those who are still able to drive their own vehicles, several programs have been proven effective to ensure safe mobility.14 Additionally, alternative communities can be great means to support both functional health and social health.15,16 Older adults desire to stay in their own communities. Ensuring that supports are in place for Baby Boomers within their communities contribute to increased quality of life.15

Mental health and substance abuse services will be an important need for Baby Boomers due to their relatively high stress levels and active lifestyles. Additionally, with this cohort, always being “on the go,” a gradual transition into retirement rather than abrupt halt in employment would be ideal as it would allow them to remain socially and cognitively active.17

LIMITATIONS

The systematic literature review revealed that spirituality was not highlighted as a factor. Gender differences were not explored by the studies included in this review. Retirement plans and expectations of Baby Boomers appear to be under-researched at this present time. Many of the studies were conducted in other countries such as Canada and Australia, which have different social services than does the United States.

APPLICATION TO SOCIAL POLICY AND PRACTICE

The research and professional literature imply that Baby Boomers will require support not just at retirement age, but also during transition. Recognizing the unique characteristics of this cohort will be important both in clinical practice and social services provisions. Baby Boomers experience a unique “sandwich generation effect” of taking care of both their parents and their children, indicating that they will require counseling support at some point in their lives. As social workers, we need to consider unique approaches to gerontology such as alternative communities, technology, and be willing to think outside the box in order to support this aging cohort.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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Volume 1, Issue 1
March 2017
Pages 4-11

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