Summary

The average American under age 25 or over age 65 spends more than his or her annual after-tax income. Young and middle-aged adults spend around 90-95% of their disposable income, the remainder presumably going for savings and investments. Both younger and older adults spend more than middle-aged adults on housing and food. Older adults also spend more than other age groups on health care, utilities, and cash contributions, whereas young and middle-aged adults spend more on transportation, clothing, insurance, and pensions. Expenditures also vary with race/ethnicity, education, location of residence, and home ownership.

Growth in the numbers of older Americans and their discretionary income has led marketers to attend more closely to the needs and desires of the over-50 and the 65-and-over segments of the population. Manufacturers and advertisers have increased their efforts to design products and promotion materials that appeal to these age groups. Discounts, product adaptations, special sales, and other incentives are being used to attract older consumers.

The quality and quantity of leisure activities engaged in by adults vary with the age, personality, and circumstances of the individual. On the average, older adults are less active than younger ones, but participating in internal and external leisure activities is a lifelong habit pattern than need not decline greatly in later life. Furthermore, many of the differences between younger and older adults in the pursuit of leisure activities are probably attributable to generational or cultural factors rather than to age per se. In general, leisure activities have a beneficial effect on the health and sense of well-being of the participants.

Numerous opportunities for volunteer services are provided by government agencies, community organizations, and by religious, health, educational, and child-care centers. Many people also obtain social interaction and personal satisfaction from being members of social, religious, political, and other organizations. Some middle-aged and older adults elect to further their education and training by attending colleges and technical schools. Elder-hostel, the Senior Center Humanities Program, and Interhostel are a few of the organizations that provide opportunities for continued educational experiences in middle- and late life.

The great majority of Americans believe in God and an afterlife, and most expect to go to heaven when they die. A majority are members of religious organizations, but less than half attend church services every week. The frequency of church attendance varies with age, sex, socioeconomic status, education, geographical region, and denomination. Church attendance declines in later life, but a large percentage of older adults still read the Bible and other religious literature, pray, meditate, and listen to and watch religious programs on the radio and television.

Religion is based on faith, which Fowler sees as developing through a series of six stages. Each successive state—from the intuitive—projective faith of young children to the universalizing faith of a few rare adults-is more complex than the stages that precede it.

A greater percentage of older adults than younger adults, of men than women, and of whites than blacks vote in national elections. Older adults also tend to be more conservative than younger adults, due in large measure to cohort rather than age differences. Thus, older adults can be quite liberal in their political views and practices when the issues pertain to the rights and benefits of the elderly. Despite some retrenchment during the 1990s in federal programs for older Americans, there is still a great deal of concern in the public and private spheres with health care, housing, income, nutrition, and transportation for this age group.

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