THE BLOG
06/23/2010 01:41 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

5 Reasons To Be Pessimistic About Middle Age

Earlier this week, I gave you five reasons to be optimistic about middle age. In brief: you'll live longer, your brain will keep developing, you'll be happier, your divorce may not be all that bad and you'll make loads of new friends on the AARP Facebook page.

But in addition to being an optimist, I'm also a realist. As promised, then, here are five reasons to be pessimistic about middle age:

  1. Social services can't keep up with aging population. Yes, people are living longer. That's the good news. But the general aging of the population will also place enormous burdens on social services, including health care delivery, informal care-giving and the pension system. So a lot will hinge on just how healthy this new crop of centenarians is. About 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic health condition and 50 percent have at least two. In theory, the health care reform bill passed last year in America should help address some of these problems. But some experts warn that our public policies -- including health care reform -- just aren't up to the task of ensuring that our aging population gets the medical care it needs. In the worst case scenario -- not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well -- the old and the young will enter into a zero-sum conflict, fighting for scarce health care and economic resources.
  2. Suicide rates are up among middle-aged Americans. Alongside all the research discussed in my last post showing that happiness peaks at 50, a curious and sobering counter-trend has also emerged: For the second year in a row, middle-aged adults have registered the highest suicide rate in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A variety of hypotheses have been tossed out to explain this trend, including easier access to guns and prescription drugs as well as higher rates of depression among boomers. One sociologist at Berkeley speculates that it's a combination of having grown up during an era of cultural turmoil (the 60′s), together with greater competition for resources (due to baby boom) as well as the stresses induced by an extended period of young adulthood. Whatever the cause, it's certainly nothing to be cheery about.
  3. Midlife Crises Cost More. I noted in my last post that with the advent of a happy middle age, there may be fewer midlife crises. But for those boomers out there still looking for Plan B, it's gonna cost them. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, mid-life crises -- whether it's traveling the world, playing the stock market or starting one's own business (I'll grant you, these are a bit tamer than some crises one might imagine!) -- have all gotten quite a good deal more expensive in the last few years. Add that to a general unease in this age bracket about market volatility and you've got a recipe for widespread economic anxiety at middle age.
  4. You're more likely to get an STD. So ... late divorce isn't so bad after all, as we learned in my last post. But sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are actually more of a problem for middle-aged populations right now, than they are among the young (at least in the United States.) The highest number of newly acquired cases of HIV/AIDS have been found in middle-aged adults, ages 35 to 44. Next highest age group? Ages 45 to 54. The least affected group is the youngest group between the ages of 25 to 34. Some of this is because women over 50 -- no longer afraid of getting pregnant -- cease to use condoms. So if you are planning on getting back out there with your new-found freedom, by all means come prepared.
  5. Who wants to multi-task? One of my favorite cantankerous chroniclers of middle age is Howard Baldwin, over on Middle Age Cranky. In a recent post, Baldwin wonders who really wants to learn that as we age, our brains actually improve their ability to problem solve and multi-task? Doesn't that just mean that boomers will have fewer excuses available to them when they want to plea a senior moment? Just sayin'...