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The New Rules Of Work

The Real Reasons More People Are Working In Retirement

40% of people over 55 are working, the most in 50 years, and it's not just for a paycheck. Meet the "retire-preneur."

The Real Reasons More People Are Working In Retirement
[Photo: Flickr user Nick Page]

We're living longer and thriving farther beyond retirement age—and it's not all beaches and golf courses for those with an entrepreneurial spirit.

A new study from Merrill Lynch addresses the myths and motivations around retirement. Nearly three out of five retirees launch into a new line of work after retirement, according to the study, and working retirees are three times more likely to be entrepreneurs than pre-retirees.

From the study:

After decades of decline, working in later life is making a comeback. Today, 40% of people aged 55-plus are working—a level of engagement in work among this age group not seen since the 1960s. As more people continue working in their later years, the U.S. workforce is steadily transforming. In prior decades, workforce growth was driven by the influx of young workers. In the last seven years, however, workers aged 55-plus accounted for virtually all workforce growth.

They can’t imagine doing nothing for the next 20 years of their lives. Enter the "retire-preneur."

It’s A Transition, Not A Clean Break

"Retirement is no longer a distinct moment where a person works for one company for 40 years, has a retirement dinner, gets a nice watch, and then slowly disappears into the sunset," says Richard Wald, managing director of wealth management at Merrill Lynch. "Retirement today is a much more dynamic and fluid process where people re-invent themselves and go through phases of transition."

Sociologist and entrepreneur Hal Spielman knows the retirement transition phase well. After over 40 years working at McCollum/Spielman Worldwide, the company he co-founded in 1968, Spielman was inducted into the market research hall of fame. He retired, and his wife died. After a lifetime surrounded by other people—in college, in the Army, at his company and as a married man—being alone was a new, somber challenge.

Putting his market research experience back to work, he studied the lifestyles and challenges of mature, single men in order to help himself cope. That project and his findings became SuddenlySolo.org and the accompanying book.

It’s Not All About The Money

Staying mentally active is equally as important to working retirees as the money, according to the study.

"I have always been a builder," Spielman says. His company grew from a few people to expanding into 53 countries. "Nothing can quite compare with that, over the 40 years of my intense involvement. But what I am doing now has a different flavor." Helping mature singles—a demographic of 19 million over 55 years of age in the U.S.—gives his life and work immense meaning on a daily basis. He considers this new project a career without the paycheck.

"For many retirees, this new phase of life is an opportunity to pursue something they did not have the chance to before," Wald says.

If you’re not ready to fully jump into entrepreneurship, but want to stay active in your field, Wald suggests considering part-time consultancy. Staying relevant in their industries for retirees means keeping up with technological advances, and staying in touch with former colleagues—not faking the latest cool gadgets to appear younger.

For pre-retirees, Wald says, volunteering in an organization that matches their passions sets the stage for meaningful post-retirement connections and involvement in a new capacity.

The biggest challenge Spielman says he has faced since retirement is making time for it all. "Yes, I would like to play golf in mid-week, but I never quite seem to have the time."

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