Are Retirement's Days Numbered?

Traditional retirement may not be in the cards for Generation Flux. Believe it or not, we might be happier and healthier that way.

Have you heard the latest on the retirement crisis? It's not what you think. Sure, recent reports suggest that four out of five families have less than a year's income in the bank for retirement--not exactly the kind of nest egg that inspires much confidence in one's future. But the real crisis may be retirement itself.

Research suggests that retirement may pose a health risk. People who stay in the workforce past traditional retirement age live longer, all else being equal; those who descend into full retirement may see a decline in their mobility, and it seems mental health suffers as well during retirement due to less social contact and less cognitive challenge.

Think back to your last vacation. By your fourth or fifth day lying on the beach, were you going stir-crazy? Were you tempted to check in with the office? Or, truthfully, do you never fully unplug?

If most of us can't handle a week of total leisure, why do we maintain our collective cultural idealization of a 30-year vacation at the end of life? Blame the Florida Chamber of Commerce, but when I hear the term "retirement" I think of white visors and endless rounds of golf.

It turns out this retirement vision is outdated, undesirable and unlikely for members of Generation Flux. Economic upheaval is one reason why. Annual surveys by the Employee Benefit Research Institute suggest that the age at which Americans expect to retire is slowly rising. As of 2013, seven percent of Americans say they'll never retire. This is a pragmatic attitude, since 57% of workers have $25,000 or less in the bank.

When we put the question out to #genflux folks on Twitter, a few had a traditional image of retirement in mind: "travel" or "Charity work. Host picnics for my grandchildren, lakeside". But most chose a middle path: "Won't stop, just slow down" or "no, but I plan to prioritize leisure." Many of us can't afford to cap off our lives with a 30-year vacation, and we wouldn't want to even if we could. The balanced take on "retirement" for Generation Flux combines work, play and learning throughout days, weeks, and life--instead of in a rigid sequence.

"Boomers reject the notion of a "balloon payment" of leisure stretching out for decades beyond traditional retirement age," says Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org and author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife. Instead, Freedman sees a trend toward "encore careers," in which people take up new work at midlife that is personally and socially meaningful, perhaps moving at a slower pace. His organization helps connect people over 60 with education and opportunities to start their own encore careers.

Does the idea of an encore career resonate with you? What does your perfect retirement look like to you? Tell us in the comments section below.

[Image: Flickr user thebarrowboy]

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30 Comments

  • Marguerite Tennier

    Totally agree.  At retirement, one has about 50 hours on one's hands to suddenly fill.  I am "retired" from my paid job and I still work - albeit under one day a week - but it's enough to keep me engaged in learning, with colleagues.  I hope to continue for a long, long time.  

  • Stever

    I have reduced my work week to a maximum of 40 hours (after 30 years of 50 to 60 hour weeks, this is really relaxing). I spend more time with grandchildren and rarely miss dinner. So far, it is wonderful and I am only playing golf twice a week.

  • John Clarke

    I'm struggling with the question of retirement right now. I love what I do and have many friends in the same industry. Leaving this work behind will be difficult and sad for me and I'm not sure what I'll do with my surplus time. I might add that the time to retire gets here pretty quick after you reach age 50.  

  • jaf

    Hi, you´re mixing up different things in a dangerous way: at a certain age I should have the right to choose what to do, do nothing, do part time job, do full time job...  or work for free for the community/family, pursuit personal development objectives... if one is in the right conditions to do so. I would like to be financially healthy after contributing to pension plans or social security or whatever (depends on the country) during many years, and not be forced to keep working until... when?. People should be educated to be motivated and metally active during retirement. We have to take care of our elder people, but nobody has to be forced to work after a certain point in life. Things are not as nice as in the article, there is illness, unability to adapt to new times, technology, etc.. and many other big issued at this age. This speech is biased.

  • Upstager

    The best thing about retirement is choice:my choice to do what I want, when I want.  After taking early retirement, I did consulting work in same field.  Then I chose another career, trained & opened own company as well as a retail store.

    Now I am in process of relocating from Canada to Mexico, to enjoy the kind of weather I love most. I may or may not continue working in design field in new location.  So many things to do.
    Some days I want to just be - read, swim, meet a friend.....I really enjoy the options I have to be as busy or laid back as I choose to be each day.  My perfect retirement!

  • Daryl

    I see people retire and lose their passion for life.  I increasingly associate retirement with a decline in mental and physical skills and being "warehoused." Work for me is a pursuit of a passion; I love what I do (public policy) and will keep doing it - or something equally as interesting - for as long as I'm able to get out of bed! 

  • Junekittay

    I am just getting started...I have been learning, teaching and hopefully changing lives for several years now. I have transitioned from Elementary School teacher in the 70's to Fun Fitness, Healthy Aging, and Line Dance Instructor for Active Aging Adults. Same profession, different clientele. Those that retire and have no meaning or purpose in life are not living....they are just existing. "Lord, let me live each day trying to accomplish something, not merely to exist!" www.junekittay.com

  • Austin R Curry

    We are now on the verge of a "New" retirement attitude and philosophy!  It all depends on your approach and fulfillment of this "New" stage of Life!  Yes, Life--because one now has the opportunity, unfettered, to do what one wishes, to pursue that long dreamed of objective, to accomplish great things, while achieving inner satisfaction and feeling a sincere purpose in life.  Open the Vistas!  Allow you innovative desires to run rampant!  Now, at this time and place in your life, you are no longer bound by corporate or management restraint, you are free from job pressures to perform, to go with the flow, to maintain political correctness!  You have been Liberated!  Take your most deep-seated desires and run with them!  It will actually feed upon itself:  As you get more enjoyment and personal satisfaction in the actual achievement of what you really want to do, even more of the "creative juices" will flow and propel you ahead as you become a new entity full of excitement and enthusiasm for your new found Life!  The rewards are unlimited and satisfaction will be "priceless" as you may even work more energetically as you are totally involved and engaged in your endeavor.  Because of your fervor your friends and associates will find this contagious and you will be swept up in those who join in your purpose driven Life as you are a total joy to be around and work with in all projects whether they are civic or social. Folks, this is indeed the Best Time of Your Life,  seize this great opportunity!  Do not ignore it by limiting your inner Best!  You will attain happiness of unbelievable satisfaction!  You cannot Buy what you will experience for yourself and your family and community!  You can do This!  Go For IT!

  • m j

    It seems pretty clear that the Baby Boomers are doing it their way....whether it has to do with not enough savings; interest in staying relevant; keeping busy; remaining socially connected. When you think about it the old notion of retirement was that you worked until 65 and got a bunch of travel in because you were probably going to die within a few years. With life expectancy on the rise and people living much longer lives....doing nothing but leisure pursuits seems pretty boring. I found a site called Gangsway.com that seems to be addressing this whole thing...there is re-location, career, education and volunteer info there. Seems to be well done.

  • ekathleen

    Where are you getting 30 years? I am supposed to retire at 67. If I am lucky I will have 15 years of retirement based on the longevity of my family. And frankly after working since age 15 I am feeling like there is no way I am waiting that long. I want days when I can relax with a book. 

  • CASUDI

    I wrote a post for the BoomerTechTalk Blog "Do I really Want to Work to 90?"  and the summary of why I should continue working is as follows:

    1) I am very good at what I do

    2) I love what I do

    3) I can’t afford to maintain my lifestyle if I give up working

    4) Making the effort will keep me feeling young and (hopefully) continue to be interesting.

    In the US it seems more prevalent than Europe (and accepted) to start a new retirement career, or even prepare for such prior to retirement. Has anyone else found this to be so?

  • Tom Pryor

    I retired June 30th and will return to a slower pace of work August 1st. Why? Because as you list, I am pretty good at what I do, I enjoy what I do AND I can afford to live a better lifestyle than before because we achieved our goal of being debt-free.

  • Aldenker

    As people live longer...they are looking for opportunities after retirement. Many of my friends are for 2 reasons:
    1. To keep involved and vibrant with a purpose
    2. Cost of living...Pensions to keep you in the style you are used to. Retirement is not necessarily less expensive. You have more time to go out and spend money!
    Most are looking for part time....allowing for leisure and flexibility 

  • Aldenker

    Retired but not retired after 38 years in leadership roles as a nurse practitioner. At first I felt disconnected from the institution Jackson Health System...but now teaching in graduate nursing program 1 course a semester; Chair of the FL Board of Nursing (volunteer) but I get to be more active and visible around the state; and a great opportunity came my way to direct a RWJF grant on Leadership and the Future of Nursing for the State of FL. I am free to manage my own time...enjoying time to be lazy and time to be involved and giving back to the community and my profession. Ir is wonderful!

  • Dave Strathmann

    A significant study conducted by Shell Oil company, worldwide recently, revealed that those who retired at 55 years of age had DOUBLE the mortality rate of those who waited until they were 65 years of age, or older.  Too little to do (or too much) is one of the top 8 stress factors in North American Workers.  Stress creates physiological damage to our bodies, by negatively influencing our immune systems.  
    I like the idea of never retiring, just placing an emphasis on more leisure activity. 

  • carlyt

    Retirement doesn't necessarily mean you pack your things into a box, have a farewell party and head for the rocking chair. Whether its the boomer generation, GenX or any other generation retirement may only mean that you leave your regular job or career and move to something else you wanted to do but could not get to. But no matter how you define retirement you should do some planning for you finances, anticipated lifestyle, etc. I recently came across the site retirementandgoodliving that has several posts and pages about various retirement topics. I found it very informative.

  • Doug Archibald

    Society has an unending need for people that are retiring to give back to society in a volunteer capacity. Give back to a world that has given us much (especially in in North America).

  • Jbbinder

    The benefits from volunteering are huge ! Depending on what you are doing - keeping you physically and mentally active at the same time as giving back to your community. (Pay it forward and 'pay it back') Like to think that retirement will provide the opportunity for some down time but a chance also to find new ways of stimulating thought and actions

  • sam

    I can see some of the points made here in my grandparents' post-career lives. They had traditional retirements at around 60, and ever since have sat at home with their classic cars, two dogs, wood working, crocheting, and once a year take a trip in their RV. But for the most part, they sit around. They complain no one comes to visit, because we live too far away or are just too busy. Both physically and mentally, their bodies are in decline, faster than we expected. This article makes a lot of sense to me now. I just hope my parents don't end up the same way, and stay well active into their later years when the time for retirement comes.