When we talk about an aging population, and the problems of social security and health care for an increasingly aged country, we make one false assumption: That everybody will retire. In fact, the opposite is true. More people near or past retirement age are working than ever before, and many—perhaps the majority—are actually making a career change.
It’s mostly about money. People aren’t retiring because they can’t afford to, says a new survey by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, based on 1,075 interviews with U.S. residents ages 50 and over.
The most surprising findings are those regarding planned career changes. Forty-one percent of respondents over 60 said they plan to switch career fields, and almost half (49%) will switch employers. The figures are lower for those over 50, which shows that the older we get, the more likely we are to seek out a new career. That said, older respondents were also less likely to actually search for a job.
This desire for folks to switch careers just when we’re expecting them to leave employment altogether is accompanied by a high level of job training and extra education. Thirty-seven percent of respondents have gotten on-the-job training, or gone back to school, within the last five years. This training is sometimes done because its a job requirement but its equally likely that these old folks did it to “learn something new or just for fun.”
And yet despite the willingness to switch careers, and the plentiful training, older folks aren’t confident about their job skills. Only 31% say they are “extremely or very confident they have the necessary skills to compete for jobs.” But it might not be their skills that are the problem—after all, who has more experience and accumulated skills than somebody on the verge of retirement? The problem may be employers, who are still biased against hiring people of age.
According to the AP NORC survey, “A majority (60%) of those who have tried looking for a job in the past five years say it was either moderately difficult or very difficult to find one.” Finding a job is never easy, but for those surveyed, the hunt was so difficult that one third of older job seekers gave up the search.
Even without career changes and training, the fact is that more and more of us aren’t retiring. For a lucky few, it’s because we don’t want to—we may have jobs we love so much we’ll keep at them until we die, or at our minds and bodies are no longer up to the task. But the majority can’t afford to stop working: 55% of adults over 50 plan to keep working past 65, or are already doing so.
Often, it’s because the bills aren’t stopping anytime soon: Many of those surveyed pay housing, education, medical, or other financial support for someone who is other than their spouse–mostly children and grandchildren.
It’s not all bad news though. Many workers cut their hours instead of retiring fully, which leaves them not only financially better off, but able to enjoy both more free time, as well as keeping a connection to the world of employment that they’ve know their whole life. Not everybody is equipped for, or even wants, days and days without anything to fill them but sudoku.
But skipping retirement because you want to keep working is one thing. Being forced to keep toiling as your body begins to slow down or even fail you is another. At least if we start telling today’s younger workers that they’ll never retire, then they’ll have time to get used to the idea.