We are often told that baby boomers reshaped every stage of life they passed through. They are the most liberal-minded, creative, self-assured – and most of all, lucky – generation in history. Pop music, the sexual revolution, environmentalism, the internet – there is little, it seems, they have not been responsible for in the modern world. As they approach their sixties and seventies, however, this generation has become prey to another, unwelcome set of assumptions. They are unemployable after fifty. They don’t understand technology. They hog property, causing housing crises. They use an unfair proportion of health resources. As with all generalisations, there is a teaspoon of truth in these perspectives, but also inaccurate stereotypes by the bucketful.
Peak, by social scientists Patricia and Don Edgar, is an enquiry into the reality of these middle years (which they define as fifty to seventy-five years old). It is also a polemic, arguing that this need not be a period of decline, but one of sustained richness in personal fulfilment and capacity to contribute to society. We need ‘a complete rethink about the nature of middle age’. What holds this generation back, they argue, is a combination of outdated social attitudes (not helped by mischievous media articles about ‘intergenerational war’) and policy blindness in government and institutions about the contribution older people can make to society.