What Boomers Can Learn From 100-Year-Old Americans

Those who live for one century – or more – have certain traits in common

May 4, 2014 at 1:30PM

Source: Wikimedia commons / Marg.

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released its study, The Centenarian Population: 2007 – 2011, part of its American Community Survey project. The report profiled various characteristics of the 55,000 persons who have made it to the 100-year mark – and, in some cases, surpassed it: The overwhelming majority, 81%, is female, and only about 15% had attained a bachelor's degree. Interestingly, the centenarians who still work reported pretty decent mean earnings, at $51,000, while the over 65 contingent reported annual mean earnings of only $37,000.

As baby boomers move into their 50s and 60s, the notion of living for a full century becomes more plausible. What can the oldest among us teach boomers about living long – and well?

I spent some time tooling around the Internet, reading studies about and interviews with American centenarians. What I found supports the notion that these persons have a few key personality traits in common. Here are the major tenets that these individuals seem to live by.

Don't worry, be happy
A sunny, positive outlook and a general sense of well-being seems to be the recipe for a long life, according to geriatric studies focusing on long lifespans. In a 2006 study of nearly 500 Ashkenazi Jews over the age of 95, researchers expected to find that the participants lived so long because they were "ornery", but instead found that they were optimistic and outgoing, and loved to laugh. Another study that year by the Georgia Centenarian Study found that the participants in the research had a personality mix that was low on the neurotic scale, while having high levels of competence and extraversion.

Centenarians corroborate these findings. A woman interviewed while skiing on her 100th birthday told ABC News last year that being positive helped her get through whatever life handed out, while the 100-year-old author of Up the Down Staircase noted a couple of years ago that she considered humor "a life force".

Stay busy, keep working
Amazingly, 2.9% of American centenarians are still working, and making pretty good wages, to boot. Though continuing on with paid work this long after the traditional age of retirement isn't for everyone, most 100-year olds advise others to stay busy at something that they enjoy.

Irving Kahn, one of the participants in the aforementioned longevity study on Ashkenazi Jews, still works each day at the brokerage firm he founded with his family in New York. In New Jersey, 100-year-old Agnes Zhelesnik continues to teach home economics full time, while Dr. Fred Goldman of Ohio still worked as a physician after turning 100 in 2011 – even making house calls.

Even if centenarians don't continue paid work, they advise others to do something interesting each day and to continue learning new things.

Other factors, such as genetics and lifestyle, also contribute to longevity, of course. But the overwhelming evidence that attitude can influence the length of one's lifespan is worth noting.

If you are worried about outliving your retirement funds, ponder this: while 17% of centenarians were considered to be below the poverty line, that percentage is only slightly above the 2012 national average of 15%. Considering the fact that life expectancy is only 78.7 years, most 100-year-olds were able to successfully cope with an extra 20 years or more of life without becoming destitute.

Did their positive outlook help them to plan their retirement more effectively? It certainly is something to think about, no matter what your current age might be.

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4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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