For baby boomers, a funny thing is happening on the way to retirement: more work. Although this generation of forty- through sixty-somethings is nearing what was once the traditional retirement age, their futures are filled with more paychecks and less leisure. Some will keep working to keep busy. Others can't afford to quit. What you're left with is a work force with an unusually large amount of older workers changing the rules of retirement.
Boomers who aren't retiring have plenty of options
If baby boomers were following the patterns of their parents and the generations before them, they would be at home indulging in their favorite hobbies or relaxing near a beach. However, in much the same way they revolutionized cultural norms in their youth, boomers are redefining the concept of retirement.
How? By not retiring -- at least not in the traditional sense. Workers in their late 50s or older are choosing different paths, or creating them, rather.
Christine Moriarty, a certified financial planner, sees would-be retirees fitting into one of three categories. First, entrepreneurs who have the financial security to retire but don't want to leave a job they love. Then there are those workers who do leave their jobs in order to pursue a lifelong passion, also known as "encore careers." Finally, there are workers who keep working due to inertia -- they don't know what else to do, so they keep showing up for work.
Of course, traditional retirees who stop working and pass the time with their favorite activities still exist. You just might find fewer of them in the coming years. According to a MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures Encore Career Survey, 79 percent of boomers between 50 and 59 intend to work past the traditional retirement age for the pay and benefits. Only 64 percent of boomers between 60 and 70 have the same plans, a sign that the younger boomers are not ready to move on.
We're living longer now than before and need something to keep us busy. An American born in 1950 was expected to live to be 68 years old while the average person born in 2005 will live to be almost 78, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retiring at 55 leaves you with plenty of time to fill, a fact that Nancy Merz Nordstrom understands.
"I was a typical wife, mother of four and a secretary, until I was unexpectedly widowed at age 48. At age 51, I went to college. At age 53, I found my life's work," she says. She got remarried, became the director of Elderhostel Institute Network, an educational network for older adults. "At age 61, I wrote my first book. And today, at age 63, I'm busier than ever with my career and family."
In addition to having all that extra time to work, workers with longer life expectancies have more opportunity to accrue bills. Daily needs like food and taxes won't ever disappear. Add to that the cost of medications and doctor's visits and living longer becomes a pricey privilege.
What are your options?
Millions of mature employees who want to keep working decide to leave the familiar behind and venture into new territory. More than 50 percent of encore career workers have left professional and management careers and 30 percent are now in education, according to the Encore Career Survey.
Plenty of workers are staying in their field and bringing their decades of knowledge and experience with them. One of the most popular paths for an encore career is that of a consultant. Companies hire a consultant to examine their business practices and look for ways to improve efficiency and remain competitive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the amount of consultants will increase 22 percent between 2006 and 2016.
Consulting can be part-time or contract work, allowing mature workers to strike a balance between work and retirement. Thanks to technology, consultants are part of the growing number of employees who work remotely, a workplace trend initiated by younger workers but benefitting everyone. The freedom to work from home lets mature workers travel or move without quitting their jobs.
"This is already happening today," says Ilya Bogorad of the Bizvortex Consulting Group, a management consulting company. "It is likely that in the very near future corporate HR departments will have to learn how to work with distributed teams composed of such consultants."