What does retirement look like to you? Let’s consider the options
Q. I am in my 70s and on the faculty of a law school outside the greater Los Angeles area. I have been asked by two colleagues, “When am I going to retire?” Note that the question was not “if” but “when.” My response has been, “I’ll retire when I am no longer having fun.” I am not interested in the legal implications but more in what is implied. I think employers in general would value experienced workers regardless of their type of work. What are your thoughts on this? M.B.
A. Let’s begin with your experience and the retirement question. Your colleagues might be genuinely interested in you and care about how you are viewing the future. They also might be curious out of self-interest. If you are a tenured professor, the university may have limited slots open for such an appointment. Non-tenured colleagues may be looking to your position should you retire. Furthermore, your friends may just have a sincere interest in you and your future plans.
In both cases, we as a society still have a mindset about what people could or should be doing at a certain age or life stage such as retiring. This public perception has not caught up with reality. We know that people are retiring later. In the early 2000s, the average age of retirement was 62. Today, that average has crept up to 65 for men and 63 for women. Baby boomers plan to work even longer. Those aged 57-to-75 plan to work with an average expected retirement age of 68.
Some work because feel insecure about their long-range financial stability or they actually need the income to meet current expenses. Others enjoy the structure of work, the social connections and the nature of the job. Yet others find work fulfills a sense of purpose and the possible rewards and challenges that go with it. Working has an implied expectation that you have something to contribute.
One could reframe the retirement question and ask, “Have you thought about some future plans?” Some may find we are becoming too sensitive to such questions. Yet often, there is a message about expectations and judgment.
Working past retirement has advantages. It has been linked to better health and longevity. An article published in the “Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health” of an 18-year study suggested that working one year beyond retirement aged was associated with a nine to 11 percent lower risk of dying regardless of health during that 18-year period. Another study linked “working past retirement with a reduced risk of dementia and heart attack.” An article in the CDC journal “Preventing Chronic Disease “suggested those who worked past age 65 were about three times more likely to be in good health and about half as likely to have serious health problems. Note, delaying retirement from stressful or physically demanding work may have a negative effect.
Now let’s look at the employers’ perspective on older workers. Here is an “a-ha” moment from a Wall Street Journal headline: “Bosses Want Hard Workers – so They’re Hiring Older People.” This has been a long time coming. For the past 50 years, there have been countless books, congressional testimonies, research studies, keynotes, seminars, workshops, newsletters and nonprofit work all devoted to the benefits of hiring and retaining older workers. (I have been part of that effort since the 1980s.) Regardless of the data, the prestigious institutions conducting research or the compelling evidence, it has taken until 2023 for such a headline to appear. Employers are looking for a strong work ethic and now finding that ethic with older workers.
So how important is work to older and younger generations? In one study, 75 percent of those age 65 and older reported that hard work was important to them personally. Among those 18-29 years, 61 percent indicated the same.
AARP had led the charge since 2012 in advancing employment of older workers by asking companies to sign a pledge that affirms the value of experienced workers and equal opportunity for workers of all ages. More than 2,500 companies have taken the pledge, including Bank of America, Microsoft, and H&R Block.
M.B., thank you for your good question. Continue enjoying your students and don’t be derailed by your questioners. Next week, we’ll talk more about older workers, their value and the reasons it has taken so long for their recognition.
And a reminder attributed to the Dalai Lama: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity