Baby Boomers — The Retirement Experience

Throughout their lives, baby boomers have redefined each stage of life, so it is no surprise that today they are redefining retirement. Boomers are trailblazing a new retirement model: many plan to work past the age of 65 or begin encore careers. For those not planning to stay in the workforce, continuing their education or volunteering in their community will occupy their time in retirement. Dr. Alexandre Kalache, President of the International Longevity Centre, believes that society’s idea of retirement needs updating, and it appears the baby boomers will be the ones to make that update.

The modern view of retirement is a recent development, occurring after the Industrial Revolution as America’s historically agrarian way of life gave way to the new Industrial Age. Before the Industrial Revolution, those lucky enough to have their health in old age would stay on the farm and help with raising the family. However, as life expectancies began to rise in the post-Industrial Age, the notion of retirement, a sort of permanent vacation from the working world, was born. Interestingly, baby boomers seem poised to carry on the tradition of caring for family during their senior years. A study from AARP found that 30 percent of preschoolers receive daycare from their grandparents while their parents are at work.

In retirement, baby boomers are decidedly more active and hands-on than the generation of retirees who came before them. Baby boomers often seek volunteer opportunities in their communities, looking to use the skills and lessons learned over a lifetime to improve their communities and help children in their community get off to a good start. They prefer direct volunteer service, where they can see the results of their work, to that of serving on boards and committees or through fundraising.

Baby boomers who are not ready to exit the workforce are working with their employers to scale back their work-related responsibilities or reduce their hours so they can achieve that work/life balance which eluded many of them throughout their careers. A survey conducted by AARP suggests many of these baby boomers will encounter employers who are unwilling to accommodate this transition. When this new group of reluctant-retirees cannot find the flexibility they want from their current employer or are looking to use better the skills and talents they’ve learned over their lifetime, they are choosing to embrace encore careers. And with the average SSA benefit payout just over $16,000/year in 2016, the motivation to do so is likely strengthened.

While Baby boomers’ motivations to work into their retirement years might be motivated by economic circumstances, many experts point out that baby boomers are seeking a retirement that is intellectually stimulating. Perhaps, this should not come as a surprise as they are the most educated generation in history. As they move into their retirement years, baby boomers are showing themselves to be lifelong learners. To them, education isn’t about exams and writing papers, it is about personal fulfillment. Seeking to meet the desire for lifelong education, universities and community colleges have responded by offering non-credit programs and creating learning environments specifically for these late-life learners. These institutions of higher learning have also found that many of the classes are enhanced when retirees mix with traditional college-aged students. This has inspired a housing concept where retirement communities are closely linked to university campuses. “PBS Newshour” estimates that 100 University Based Retirement Communities (UBRC) are currently active in the U.S. with more UBRCs expected in the coming years.

Experts have long criticized American pop culture for placing too much emphasis on youth and not paying enough respect to the experience and knowledge gained by a life well-lived. With the baby boomers trailblazing a new path for retirement, they just might teach the younger generations that getting old is the best thing that can happen to them.