Why Baby Boomers Won’t Reinvent Retirement

As they age, boomers adopt traditional retirement plans.

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The new year brings with it the first baby boomers turning 65. An estimated 7,000 boomers will turn 65 each day in 2011, and they are actually feeling pretty good about it, according to a new AARP study, Approaching 65: A Survey of Baby Boomers Turning 65 Years Old.

[See The Baby Boomers Turn 65.]

Although this generation is known for it’s 60 is the new 20 mentality toward aging, the survey finds that those turning 65 this year continue to be very concerned about their health. And now that they stand at retirement’s doorstep, they are understandably focused on their financial security as well. However, despite these worries, the AARP study found this tip of the boomer iceberg to be incredibly optimistic and upbeat about their lives.

Feeling optimistic. Nearly eight in ten of the baby boomers surveyed are satisfied with the way things are going in their lives. Looking back, 71 percent feel they have achieved all or most of what they wanted out of life and another 26 percent report having achieved at least some of it. Only a mere 3 percent felt they hadn’t achieved any of what they set out to do.

[See Why Retirement is the Happiest Stage of Life.]

While many of these boomers feel anxious and uncertain about what the next five years will bring, 87 percent feel hopeful, and 84 percent feel confident about what the future holds. The overwhelming majority of boomers are looking forward to a fulfilling and exciting future. Only a quarter of respondents think they will be bored. AARP conducted a similar study five years ago when these boomers were turning 60. Despite the economic turmoil of the last three years, this cohort reports higher levels of optimism now than they did five years ago.

Less inclined to work. Previous AARP and Merrill Lynch studies over the last decade reported that more than 70 percent of boomers expect to work past age 65. Besides the financial motivation, most aging boomers expressed a desire to continue working in order to stay mentally and physically active.

[See 5 Reasons Your Retirement Will Include Work.]

This is where attitudes may be shifting, according to the 2010 AARP study. Only 31 percent of the boomers who are approaching 65 this year are still actually working full or part time. Among those who are still working, 56 percent expect to retire completely in the next few years and 55 percent expect to at least cut back on work hours.

New priorities. The plans these boomers are making for the next few years include shifting away from career endeavors toward more personally rewarding experiences. Only 15 percent of boomers expect to go back to work, while more than three-quarters expect to spend more of their time with loved ones, on their own hobbies and interests, and on taking better care of their own health. More than half of those surveyed plan on traveling and volunteering more frequently. Despite the commercials featuring silver-haired couples strolling barefoot along exotic beaches, only 2 percent plan to relocate in retirement.

With all the talk of the new retirement and of baby boomers redefining retirement, I’m not so sure these survey results show much difference from the old retirement. Among the minority of boomers who are still working at age 65, most expect to be fully retired in the next few years. The focus on time with family, interests and hobbies, and on volunteer and travel sound much like the traditional images of retirement. Boomers are are beginning to acknowledge the effect of aging on their lives and are choosing to continue living in their communities, much like the generation that preceded them. The new retirement is starting to sound an awful lot like the old one to me.

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.