Postponing Retirement

August 8th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

More and more baby boomers are staying in the workforce longer - by choice.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

According to a recent Gallup survey, 67 is the new 60. The results from Gallup’s annual Economy and Personal Finance survey show that the average working American now expects to retire at age 67, up from age 60 in the mid-1990s.

The report, as the Huffington Post points out, is consistent with both a Labor Department finding that the percentage of Americans over 65 still in the workforce is at a record high, and a recent study by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research that claims that the harder people’s retirement plans were hit in the recession, the more likely people were to delay their retirement.

Second Act, a website about mid-to late-career reinvention, pinpoints some specific reasons for these delays: Older Americans are saddled with debt, as the average age of bankruptcy petitioners is rising, with sharp increases among those over 55; many are carrying mortgage and home-equity debt, and can’t sell their homes in the current market; some borrowed from retirement savings accounts during the recession; and non-retirees have watched their defined benefit pensions evaporate as companies shift to 401(k) plans. 

But not all the reasons for delaying retirement – or shifting gears afterward – are due to financial necessity. Second Act notes that the brain is hard-wired for productive change after retirement. A HuffPo interview with Mark Walton, author of “Boundless Potential” (a book about remarkable second acts) and himself a reinvented White House correspondent, points to this argument: “In fact, post 50s have an advantage over their younger counterparts […] Though the brain may lose some of its processing speed and accuracy over time, years of using their skills and talents, social and emotional skills, and creativity coalesce in what Walton calls ‘crystallized intelligence,’” or the ability to make wise decisions under pressure. Second Act also notes that non-retirees – even if they stay in their current jobs and aren’t planning a new career – are doing it because they want to make a difference.

According to a recent survey by Charles Schwab & Co., more than a quarter of people between 50 and 69 say that this is the happiest time of their working career because they feel engaged, respected, valued and happy. Another 11 percent believe the best is yet to come.

As evidence that people can affect the most change after their so-called retirement, Walton cites the examples of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III, the pilot who at age 57 made the split-second decision to land his disabled plane safely in the Hudson River in 2009, where a younger pilot might not have been equipped to make the same decision.

If you plan to stay in the workforce by choice, what’s the reason? And if you’re planning your own “second act,” (or have reinvented already), tell us about your transformation.