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.

Are Retirement’s Days Numbered?

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It turns out this retirement vision is outdated, undesirable and unlikely for members of Generation Flux.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 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]

About the author

She’s the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her next book, The Test, about standardized testing, will be published by Public Affairs in 2015.