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Successful Aging: Money not the only reason some choose work over retirement

Q. I have stated dating a woman who is 71 years old, just a year older than me. Having been retired for the past five years, I am looking for someone who would like to do the same. Although she can afford to retire, she currently has no such plans. I like her very much and would like to continue the relationship. I don’t fully understand her continued drive when she could be having a life of freedom and leisure. Note we both are widows. Any insights? E.S.

A. Dear E.S.

At one time, people assumed that at a certain age you would retire and lead a life of leisure. That’s not the case today. Many continue to work past the traditional retirement age primarily for income. Yet there is an emerging group that continues to work – either full time or part time – for other reasons.

A sense of purpose: Having a purpose in later life is important and can be expressed in volunteering, becoming a mentor or pursuing the arts. And yes, work also can provide that sense of purpose. The Blue Zone study identified characteristics of the longest lived people on the planet. Having a sense of purpose was one of the shared characteristics.

Purposeful living has been linked to other aspects of well-being such as a longer life, lower risk of disease, better sleep and other health behaviors. According to Time health writer Amanda MacMillan, researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data from a national survey and wrote “People with higher purpose are more proactive in taking care of their health, have better impulse control, and engage in healthier activities.” Beside all of the evidence, having a reason to get up in the morning just feels good.

Structure to the day: Work provides a sense of structure that determines how time is allocated. For some, structure is an obstacle to freedom. For others, it provides an element of control over time and what to do with it. Structure can be achieved by being committed to a volunteer cause, a fitness program or being an active family member. Looking after grandchildren on certain days offers a form of structure. Work is just one option but an important one.

Social contact: Having a full-time demanding job for many years can define social relationships, particularly since we often spend more time with our-co-workers than our family. After leaving the workplace, those relationships often diminish. Continuing to work provides an opportunity for ongoing connection whether at your same place of work or a new one. Connection with others is key. Social isolation is a national epidemic with negative effects on health and well-being. It is considered more damaging than obesity and equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Working with others is an antidote to such isolation. Additionally it’s enjoyable to be with “good” people.

Mental stimulation: The “use it or lose it” mantra is backed by research studies. When no longer working, the need to meet deadlines or apply critical thinking may disappear which may present a problem. Research studies indicate that older adults who do participate in thinking activities that require active learning, problem solving, and decision making often do better on tests of learning and memory compared to peers who are less cognitively engaged. We also know that learning anything new creates new neural pathways in our brain. The opportunity for mental stimulation and challenge is not only a benefit to working but also can serve as a motivator. Of course, this all depends on the nature of one’s work.

Giving back: An increasing number of boomers are looking at their next chapter in life to explore new opportunities for a second career. That’s a career that embraces purpose, passion, sometimes a paycheck, for the greater good. More than 4.5 million people between ages 50 and 70 are already working along such a path, according to a survey by; another 21 million plan to join them., a non-profit in northern California, has made its mission to build a movement to tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to have a positive impact in the world for adults, young people and future generations. See, and the “Encore Career Handbook” by Marcie Alboher.

E.S., Thank you for your good question. Hopefully these possible reasons will help you understand why many choose to work in later life.

A thought: consider having a chat with your lady friend to learn about her reasons.

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