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Are Male Baby Boomers Doomed To Become Lonely Seniors?

Why are women more psychologically prepared for old age?

It’s not just the young in the Occupy Movement who fear for their futures. Many older people, who are marching with them, dread retirement, even if they hate their jobs. They fear social isolation, the loss of friends they enjoyed at work and the freedom of too much unstructured time. The good news is that women are already preparing for what is often called the "third chapter” of their lives. What’s sad is that men of the same age, for a variety of reasons, are largely unprepared and less likely to participate in activities that offer stimulation and friendship.

So what is the first generation of women, who spent much of their lives working outside the home, doing that somehow eludes men?

They are re-creating opportunities to explore their lives and finding ways to resurrect the world of women’s groups that gave them the confidence to reinvent their lives decades ago.

Consider women’s book groups, which are hardly new. Even in the late-19th century, women’s book groups gave “ladies” a way to discuss social and political issues of the day. Oprah Winfrey popularized the current book club movement and they are proliferating with astonishing speed. Cafes host them; book stores sponsor them, friends create them; and the novels and nonfiction they read often conclude with a section of questions designed for groups, accompanied by an interview with the author. As Victoria Skurnick, a literary agent and former editor of the Book of the Month Club says, “There are some books that soar in popularity because so many book groups fall in love with them. Books have always sold well or badly on the presence or absence of word of mouth, and book groups take that fact and multiply it by six or eight or ten.”

Most members are women and no one knows how many women meet monthly to discuss books. Whatever they read—religious texts, fiction or nonfiction—the groups provide an opportunity to discuss how the themes relate to their lives or what they think about the world around them. Lubricated with some wine and food, it is both a social and intellectual event that fosters friendships.

It’s not that older men don’t read; they just tend to do it in isolation. The same is true about the tendency to avoid signing up for classes meant for educated adults. On many campuses, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute -- or something like it -- offers serious courses on everything from the Art of Bali to the New Arab Revolts. But the majority of the people who enroll are women. (It is the few men, however, who ask most of the questions and offer their comments.)

Some of these retired women have even resurrected a new kind of women’s movement for women over 50. In the late '90s, Charlotte Frank and Christine Millen began conversations about their future with 10 friends in a New York City living room. Eventually, this group created a new national movement for women called the Transition Network (TNN).

Today, TNN has chapters in 12 cities in the U.S. and attracts professional women who like its edgy rejection of themselves as “little old ladies." They sponsor small peer groups that meet in members’ homes, echoing the consciousness raising groups of the late 1960s and '70s. These are members who take feminism for granted. They’ve worked most of their lives, “and now, in the wake of widowhood, a lost job, or retirement, are seeking to reinvent their lives.” TNN also offers specialty groups for women who want to travel, see and discuss theater and films, socialize over exotic lunches, or become caregivers for other women in need.”

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