Baby Boomers Changing Retirement Expectations

Older workers are redefining what it means to be retired.

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Retirement once meant completely leaving behind the workforce. But older workers are in the process of recharacterizing what it means to be retired.

Most older workers (54 percent) now view retirement as an opportunity for a whole new chapter in life, according to a new Harris Interactive survey of 1,001 people age 55 and older commissioned by SunAmerica Financial Group and Age Wave. When the same question was asked a decade ago in 2001, many people viewed retirement as a continuance of what life was (40 percent) or a winding down of life (22 percent).

[See 10 Key Retirement Ages to Plan For.]

“Most people probably would like more time off, but they don’t want a life of leisure,” says Ken Dychtwald, president of the consulting firm Age Wave and author of With Purpose: Going From Success to Significance in Work and Life. “Today people are wanting to be productive and contribute.”

Increasingly, this new version of retirement includes some form of work. Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of the survey respondents say they would ideally like to remain employed during the traditional retirement years. Baby boomers between ages 55 and 64 were especially likely to want a retirement job (79 percent), compared to 56 percent of seniors age 65 and older.

But that doesn’t mean that employees want to continue to work full-time indefinitely. Only 4 percent of the survey respondents say they desire full-time employment in retirement. Most people want flexible work schedules in retirement such as part-time work (25 percent) or to cycle between periods of work and leisure (36 percent). “People are saying they expect to work longer, but people don’t necessarily want to work full time,” says Dychtwald. “They might like to work three days a week or maybe even volunteer.” Only 30 percent of those surveyed want to never work for pay again.

[See The Workers Most Likely to Delay Retirement.]

The date that people wish to leave their primary careers is also being postponed. Older workers now say they wish to retire at an average age of 69, up from 64 when the same question was asked in 2001.

Some of the reasons for delaying retirement are financial. “People are going to live longer and they are still recovering from the impact of the recession,” says Jay Wintrob, president and CEO of SunAmerica Financial Group. While a majority (62 percent) of those surveyed felt financially secure before the recession, only 44 percent of workers say they feel secure now. And over twice as many people are worried about their financial situation compared to the years before the recession (39 percent versus 18 percent).

[See Why the Retirement Age Is Increasing.]

But financial concerns aren’t the only reason many people are postponing retirement. Over half (54 percent) of those surveyed say the stimulation and satisfaction they get from their jobs is the main reason they will work in retirement, compared to 46 percent who will primarily work for the paycheck. Many older workers say that longer life spans will allow them to remain productive (67 percent), continue to develop relationships with family (65 percent), and witness new discoveries and watch the world evolve (59 percent). “People are going to need to stay connected and keep earning and they want that kind of involvement,” says Wintrob. “They have watched their Mom and Dad move to the sidelines and they don’t want that for themselves.”

Twitter: @aiming2retire