The baby boomers redefined each stage of life as they passed through it. And now they are on the verge of reinventing the meaning of old age and retirement. Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Civic Ventures, argues that we need a new life stage, encore adulthood, between midlife and old age in his new book, The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife. U.S. News asked Freedman about how this new map of work and retirement will unfold. Excerpts:
When does encore adulthood occur?
We’re having a very difficult time embracing this period between 60 and 80, but for many people it starts earlier or ends later. We keep urging people to pretend that they are younger than they are. I think we would be much better off to accept this period on its own terms and to make the most of our longer life spans. The creation of a new stage between midlife and old age can change what many people see as the problem of many old people creating a burden on society, when we really have a group of people who are neither young nor old.
What characterizes this new life stage between midlife and old age?
There is a realization on the part of many people that they are not in midlife anymore and at the same time they are quite a distance from anything resembling old age or retirement. It has to do with a realization that a lot of us have in our 50s and 60s that life is finite. Parents pass away and you get a health result that is a little scary. You start recognizing that the road doesn’t go on forever, but there is a realization that it could go on quite a bit longer. Time matters in a way it didn’t matter when you were young, but there’s enough time to do something with it.
Should we take gap years throughout our lives instead of a several decade retirement at the end?
Building in breaks at intervals makes sense. I’d like to see us reallocate that chunk of time that many people are taking off at the end of life at reasonable intervals so that people can find renewal and maintain their engagement over much longer life spans. Does a 30-year or longer break at the end of life make sense or should we find a way to build more balance across the life course?
How should we pay for these career breaks and transitions?
We save so much for this endless vacation in the latter part of life. I think much of that investment should be going to transitions throughout the life course and particularly in the 50 and 60s when people will be shifting to another stage of life. Rather than having to finance a long period of no income, many people can gain through doing work that they are going to look forward to doing and are likely to want to do for 10 or 15 years. They can maintain their lifestyle and have a lot more choice in the kind of work that they pursue. The real goal is not long-term freedom from work, but the freedom to reinvest in a new trajectory and then do work that might not be as lucrative but is closer to your heart.
What’s wrong with a traditional retirement at 65?
I think the goal is not to hector anybody who wants to retire into doing something against their will. It’s really to help support and enable those who want to continue to contribute. Many people who have been looking forward to retirement may get a few years off and then be ready to return to the action or need to for financial reasons.