Given the way pop culture treats older women, you might suppose they're waiting glumly to be deposited on icebergs and shoved off to the great beyond. While men can become "distinguished" as they age (even if most don't), the stock judgment on women is that they merely become decrepit. It's a surprise, then, to learn from an AARP Foundation poll that women age 45-plus are mainly happy and expect to stay that way.
Most strikingly, 65 percent of 45-and-older women "consider themselves happier now than they have ever been." How come? In part, it seems, because they look back on their younger days not as a period of freedom(as the conventional wisdom would have it) but as one of involuntary self-constraint. Eighty-three percent agreed with the statement, "Now that I'm older, I feel more free to be myself." (Their mates and kids may read this with alarm, but that's another story.) Seventy-seven percent believe "My older years are the time to pursue my dreams and do things I've always wanted to do."
Underlying these upbeat sentiments is a sense of physical well-being. A majority of the women described their health as "excellent" (20 percent) or "very good" (36 percent), with another 25 percent characterizing it as "good." Twelve percent said it's "fair"; fewer than one in 10 rated it "poor" (6 percent) or "very poor" (2 percent). Forty-seven percent are "very confident" they're "actually doing all you can to keep yourself as healthy as possible," and most of the rest (44 percent) are "somewhat confident" on that score. While saying that healthcare costs sometimes keep them from getting care they feel they need, 90 percent of women said they "have a primary doctor that I see as often as I need to."
Finances are less of a sticking point than you might suppose. Although 39 percent said they "find thinking about my finances depressing," 63 percent agreed that "My financial situation is safe and secure." Looking ahead, 61 percent subscribed to the statement, "I am confident I will have enough money to enjoy life in my later years." It's not as though the women display a Pollyanna-like absence of worry. Apart from their financial anxieties, 30 percent fear becoming a burden to their families in their old age; 22 percent worry about being alone in their later years, and 19 percent fear they'll have no one to take care of them. Twenty-six percent are afraid they'll "be forced to live someplace they do not want to live in their older years." One intriguing finding: If they found themselves living alone, 39 percent would see at least some appeal to the idea of sharing a home with female friends.