Just a few decades ago, the average lifespan for Americans was only 61. Today, a healthy woman at age 65 has a 25-percent chance of living to age 90, and men have the same chance of living to age 89.
Still, many people continue to retire at age 62, leaving nearly a quarter-century — or even longer — in retirement. Having realized that they don’t want to spend all those years golfing or knitting, the baby boomers are leading the way in rewriting the rules for retirement.
Why are so many boomers choosing not to retire, and how are the ones who do retire spending their time?
Many Reasons for Non-retirement
The prospect of retirement causes significant anxiety for many people. Planning is challenging, and many people simply aren’t sure they’re ready — financially or emotionally. For an increasing number of boomers, the solution is choosing not to retire for the foreseeable future.
For some, lack of financial resources drives the decision to keep working. The boomers have famously failed to save enough for retirement, and that lack of funds is coming home to roost. Some boomers have no real choice except to continue working.
Some older adults simply are so successful that they find it hard to give up their careers. Boomers at the top of the food chain — think CEOs, scientists, business owners, doctors and attorneys — may find that higher demand for their expertise persists, and they have little incentive to stop working.
But many individuals who don’t earn quite as much as Fortune 500 CEOs also choose to keep working. In some cases, it’s simply that they love their work. Graphic designers, writers, teachers, business owners and others often enjoy what they do so much that they are not ready to give it up just yet.
Some boomers also have built successful investments that require ongoing management. Older adults who invested in the stock market or bought rental properties years ago may choose to continue checking their investments religiously or even making repairs to rental homes themselves.
The Role of Early Retirement
For a variety of reasons, some boomers are forced into retirement earlier than they expected. During economic downturns, employers may lay off workers, and older workers — who tend to earn more — may end up on the chopping block.
In other cases, entire industries experience hard times and even disappear. Individuals who devoted decades to a specific line of work can suddenly find the demand for their skills has dropped and they no longer have jobs. Sometimes, unfortunately, older adults are the victims of age discrimination and cannot find new jobs.
Some individuals retire due to poor health, or they act as full-time caregivers for a spouse or another family member.
But early retirement, for many, is a temporary situation. Financial outlooks change, health problems improve, and work prospects appear. Suddenly, someone who took early retirement can re-enter the workforce.
Embarking on a Second Career
Whether boomers choose retirement or are forced out of their careers or industries, many take the path of a new career. Some people simply enjoy working, and they can’t imagine how they would spend their time without a vocation. Others have always wanted to explore a different field, and retirement provides that opportunity.
Starting up an entrepreneurial venture appeals to many boomers, and older adults can infuse significant experience and maturity into tech-oriented fields previously dominated by younger people. With the internet providing virtually unlimited access to information and the ability to work from anywhere, boomers are becoming tech-savvy and starting businesses in a way that their parents never would have imagined.
Building a Life of Meaning
For many older adults, retirement presents an opportunity to begin building a life of meaning. After working for decades, a growing number of boomers want to find ways to better themselves, expand their horizons, and give back to their communities.
Whether volunteering, going back to school to learn a new skill, or mentoring young people, older adults continue to make significant contributions. Their knowledge, wisdom and experience inspire younger people, and they work together to improve the community for everyone.
Today’s Retirees: Rebirth and Reinvention
Not so many years ago, retirement meant slowing down. Some retirees enjoyed their leisure time, but others experienced depression and emptiness as they suddenly didn’t know how to fill their time.
Today, retirement is about rebirth and reinvention — from starting businesses to embarking on new careers, volunteering, and mentoring young people. With this significant change in America’s retirement landscape, senior living communities also must adapt to meet the needs of a vibrant, intellectually curious, socially conscious group of older adults.