More Baby Boomers Launch Encore Careers

Older workers are delaying retirement to begin second careers helping others.

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A growing number of people approaching retirement are pursuing encore careers, or late-career jobs that pay the bills while providing personal meaning or having a social impact. A new MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures report estimates that 9 million older workers, or about 9 percent of all people ages 44 to 70, are already in encore careers, up from 8.4 million in 2008.

“In the new, encore stage of life between midlife and true old age, many want work that has deeper personal meaning and that connects them to something larger than themselves,” says Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Civic Ventures and author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife.

[See The 10 Best Places to Retire in 2012.]

The most popular encore careers are working in education (30 percent), health care (25 percent), government (25 percent), and nonprofit organizations (11 percent). Only 5 percent of those surveyed are giving back through for-profit companies. Older workers expect to continue these encore jobs for an average of 11 more years, and plan to keep working until an average age of 69. Their reasons for taking an encore career are often financial including insufficient income (28 percent), the recession (25 percent), and inadequate savings (22 percent), but also include a desire to make a difference (21 percent).

Civic Ventures estimates that another 31 million older workers, or 31 percent of those ages 44 to 70, are interested in pursuing encore careers. The telephone survey of 930 Americans ages 44 to 70 included 85 people currently in encore careers, 285 individuals interested in encore careers, and 534 older workers not interested in a second career. The top social issues older workers would like to address in their encore careers include social services (28 percent), health care (25 percent), religious or faith-based work (24 percent), human rights or social justice (21 percent), arts and culture (20 percent), at-risk youth (20 percent), the environment (20 percent), K-12 education (18 percent), poverty alleviation (15 percent), and economic development (14 percent). They expect these second careers to last an average of nine years.

[See Workers Pushing Back Their Retirement Age.]

However, interest in encore careers has declined over the past three years. Only a quarter of the survey respondents rate their interest in pursuing an encore career at eight or higher on a 10-point scale, down from over a third (34 percent) in 2008. Among those interested in encore careers, many say their financial situations have worsened in the past three years (41 percent) and they are concerned they will not have enough income in retirement (73 percent). Many people considering transitioning into a new job say they are very concerned that the state of the economy makes this a difficult time to make a job change (51 percent).

Half of those interested in encore careers think the transition would be difficult, largely because of financial obstacles (59 percent). Many of those considering encore careers are concerned that they won’t receive adequate health insurance (39 percent) or the level of income they need (29 percent) at a job helping others. The transition into a new job can be difficult, with many people worried that they can’t afford the time or money necessary to retrain for a new career, that they will face age discrimination (35 percent), and that their health or physical condition will make it difficult to do the work (30 percent). Some people also fear that it will be difficult to find paid work that improves their communities or addresses social challenges (26 percent).

[See Life After Age 90.]

People interested in encore careers largely plan to continue working because of the financial security continuing to earn a paycheck provides (60 percent). Another 31 percent of those surveyed say they would return to work after retiring primarily to give back, improve their communities, and address social challenges. “The tens of millions who are interested in encore careers want some level of financial security and the opportunity to work for the greater good,” says Freedman. The Civic Ventures report concludes: “It is the combination of financial security and the ability to give back locally that strikes the biggest chord.”

Twitter: @aiming2retire