Old age has become the gold age for a rapidly building "tidal wave" of the Illawarra's populace.The baby boomer generation, the largest demographic Australia has seen and the one that has changed almost everything it has touched, is reaching retirement age and rather than retreating into their shells, the boomers are choosing to live it up.With money, time and longer lives to enjoy, it's a golden age to be growing old, social researcher Mark McCrindle says. EDITORIAL: Boomers in for the time of their lives"They've never seen better days. It's the lifestyle generation - they've got better health at their age than ever before," he said."They're more actively involved with their grandchildren than ever before. They're very connected to family and very connected technologically."Whether they are working longer or retiring early, today's self-funded seniors were more likely to be doing it on their own terms, he said."We're seeing people in their 60s and 70s ... downshifting from a full-time work role, but remaining active," he said. "These are days that can provide that work-life balance that older workers have always aspired to."In caravan parks around the country they are known as the SKI Club - Spending the Kids' Inheritance - and their vans have bumper stickers saying exactly that.Whereas their parents, having lived through the Depression, were frugal upon retirement and saved up an inheritance for the kids, today's retirees have usually spent enough on their children for two lifetimes and are ready to enjoy themselves.While much attention has focused on the increased health-care costs of an ageing population, Mr McCrindle says the ageing population is a positive thing - because they're living longer and they're active consumers."They have the money, generally speaking, to really enjoy this stage of their life," he said."Now they have the attitude, our research is finding, that now is the time to live."Baby boomers make up 25 per cent of the population, about 5.5 million, yet they own more than 50 per cent of the net private wealth."We think it's Generation Y who are into technology but it's the baby boomers who spend the most on technology. They've been early adaptors throughout their life."Life expectancy for males in 1910 was 57. It will soon be 80. And if Prince William ever makes it to be King he will find himself a lot busier than previous monarchs when it comes to writing letters to Australia.Bureau of Statistics figures show there are now 3700 people in Australia aged over 100. Over the past two decades, the number of centenarians increased by 185 per cent, compared with a total population growth of 31 per cent over the same period.Meantime, ABS figures show population growth has slipped to its lowest rate since March 2007.The consequence is clear: more of the people around here will be older.The fastest change will occur in the next five years. By 2016 the percentage of the population aged 65 or over will reach 20.2 per cent, the Illawarra Regional Information Service says.By 2031 the percentage will be 26.5 per cent.This will pose its challenges, and the Productivity Commission this month will deliver a report into the changing demands of caring for older Australians.Meantime, councils are signing up to a World Health Organisation program called Age-Friendly Cities, where the needs of older people are taken into consideration in planning. In the Illawarra it's being led by IRT research and community relations officer Kristy Wandmaker."It's a commitment to providing an inclusive and accessible urban environment that promotes active ageing," she said. "It's a tidal wave of seniors [and] there will be huge impacts to the way of life in every community."It's about making sure seniors are included because they are going to be such a significant proportion of the population."Grey or gold, the boomers stand a good chance of being included in planning for their needs - especially since they have spent the past few decades running the world.