With millions of baby boomers reaching retirement age, fears are mounting about the economic effect if they follow the pattern of previous generations by curbing spending and draining Social Security and Medicare benefits.
But the 78 million boomers have always broken the mold, and some investors and business and community leaders see their retirement as no different. They see an unprecedented, multibillion-dollar opportunity to offer new products and services to an active demographic group expected to live longer than previous generations.
Sun Belt retirement communities are looking to boomers to help rekindle local economies. They're rethinking sporting and shopping developments, as well as art centers, to attract on-the-go retirees looking for an array of easily accessible activities.
On the labor front, the health care industry is the most obvious benefactor of a longer-living active community. But demand also will be high in less obvious fields, such as for architects, who will be called on to build senior-friendly communities, or financial advisers to help boomers plan their retirements.
"It's only in Washington that 100 million people are viewed as an unaffordable cost and financial burden," said Jody Holtzman, a senior vice president at AARP. "In the private sector, 100 million people are called a market and an opportunity."
Concern about a drain on entitlements from retiring baby boomers has increased as talks intensify regarding the fiscal cliff. But those projections fail to take into account that boomers are expected to work longer and they've never followed in the footsteps of previous generations, said Matt Thornhill, an author of "Boomer Consumer."
"We became the generation of consumption and personal gratification," Thornhill said. "Boomers are not going to spend at all like the prior generations did at 65. They're going to spend at boomer levels. And there's millions more of them."