I had lunch with a friend last week. She asked me why today’s retirees keep retiring, un-retiring, retiring, and then un-retiring again. She met a woman last weekend that retired from her dental practice in her early 50’s only to be lured back to work at a non-profit AIDS clinic several years later. My aunt retired from her high school teaching job, only to return to it a few years later as well. And after nearly three years of full-time retirement, I was enticed to dabble in a part-time consulting job in my old field.
What’s going on here? Don’t people know that “retired” is supposed to mean golf, cruises, and volunteer work? Don’t they know it’s supposed to mean not working? Apparently not. Even before our great recession, a 2006 Merrill Lynch retirement survey found that 71 percent of respondents expected to work in some capacity in retirement. In fact, labor participation rates for older adults have been increasing since the mid 1980’s. Since the recession began, the Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends project found that 54 percent of workers over 64 years old were working mainly because they wanted to. Only 17 percent cited exclusively monetary motivations for working.
My friend’s lunchtime observation is correct. One in five people over the age of 50 currently holds a retirement job, according to a Families and Work Institute (FWI) and Sloan Center on Aging and Work 2008 study. And some 75 percent of workers 50 and older expect to have retirement jobs in the future. Here’s a look at why retirees are increasingly seeking paid employment.
They enjoy it. Individuals working in retirement are significantly more satisfied with their jobs than those not yet retired, the FWI’s study found. Retirees working on their own terms, especially those working part-time, rated their retirement experience more positively than retirees that were not working, according to the Merrill Lynch study.
They are their own boss. The Challenger Job Market Index revealed that the largest gains in self-employment are occurring in the over 54 crowd. In fact, one-third of workers in the FWI’s study became their own bosses in retirement.
To do something different. Two-thirds of respondents in the Merrill Lynch survey wanted to do something completely different in retirement from what they did before they retired.
They are able to work less. The FWI study found that those with retirement jobs are significantly more likely to be working part time. Working retirees also reported a significantly more positive work-life balance than those who were not yet retired.
They feel young. Many boomers simply don’t feel old enough to stop working all together. They are healthy, active, and want their retirement to include some sort of work activity.
This trend is unlikely to reverse in the years to come. I know it’s hard to imagine given the current job market, but based on current demographics, a labor shortage is expected in the not-too-distant future. A study released earlier this year predicts that by 2018, there will be more jobs to fill than people to fill them. Labor participation rates among older adults are expected to continue to rise. But even with the increased participation, it is likely that many jobs will be hard to fill. This may be very good news for retirees who want a retirement job to carry them happily through their golden years.
Sydney Lagier is a former certified public accountant. Since retiring in 2008 at the age of 44, she has been writing about the transition from productive member of society to gal of leisure at her blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job.