Most Americans agree that aging is definitely changing. By living longer, healthier lives we are redefining the traditional life stages that have historically occurred at specific ages. Few have been more radically redefined than the concept of retirement. In many ways, this has been both a long time coming and actually beneficial to people of all ages by helping us rethink this entire life journey to recognize our full potential of what is truly possible regardless of age.
The traditional concept of retirement used to be considered a time of rest. Yet this was also at a time when the majority of jobs involved physical labor and life expectancy was considerably less so people generally only spent on average 3-5 years in retirement. However, over the course of history, jobs have changed and life expectancy has increased so much so now that retirement can encompass a span of 30 years or more!
Today’s mode of retirement has many people facing entirely new challenges. It’s literally a juggling act figuring out how to finance longevity, while also trying to create a realistic balance between the idea of being in and out of the workforce over 30 years, or trying to decide when and if to continue working or not, and all the while still hoping for enough flexibility to relax or pursue other interests. While the idea of working in retirement may sound like an oxy moron, it actually is yet another example of the longevity effect. The “traditional” model of retirement is so outdated it may finally be time to retire both the word and concept – or at least update it and/or redefine it.
When you look up the word retirement in the dictionary, it describes what gerontologists identify as being the worse thing for you – disengagement, pushed aside, no longer contributing. That’s not a healthy way to live regardless of what age you are. Yet clearly, today’s older adults are no longer buying into this philosophy as most of the healthiest, happiest retirees I know are so busy they often wonder how they ever had time to work!
But work, many continue to do. In fact the latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor show that older workers, i.e. those age 55+, actually increased their presence in the workforce by 65% in the last twelve months – holding more than two-thirds of the new jobs added during this time. And to be clear, they are not necessarily limiting the job pool for younger workers, but instead as the more experienced employees, they actually generate economic growth that itself yields to additional jobs for others.
Job satisfaction is another factor contributing to the increasing numbers of older workers. According to the Retirement Project of the Urban Institute, 90% of workers age 60-64 say they enjoy going to work compared with 95% of those workers age 65-69 and 97% of workers age 70+. People who love their jobs shouldn’t give them up just because they are a certain age.
Clearly there isn’t a script for people 65+ anymore. Even advice generally only given to younger people to try new things is now equally applicable to people later in life as well. Many older workers who recognize they likely will and can work longer, are leaving career jobs to pursue opportunities to do something totally different, that they’ve always wanted to do. These are all good signs in pursuing an ageless society – where age truly is considered just a number and actually viewed as such as well.
So as we continue to redefine aging and retirement, it is clear that it’s still evolving — a work in progress, just like all of us. What we do know however is that the opportunities are limitless and what really matters most is that we continue to find fulfillment at all life’s ages and stages by pursuing things that provide meaning and purpose in our lives – and always allow us the opportunity to keep contributing in positive, vital ways.