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Some new aspects and trends about retirement

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Dear Readers:

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the Daily Breeze’s fourth annual Successful Aging Expo. It was a great success.

Health and fitness were strong themes, as were financial, social, residential and educational opportunities. It was great to see nonprofit organizations represented.

My presentation went well, so I thought I would share some highlights with you. The theme was “What’s New About Retirement?”

Here are some relatively new aspects:

Retirement is hard to define. Sociologists don’t agree on the definition. At one time retirement meant that you left your job and no longer earned income. That’s not the case today. At one time age determined retirement status. Again, not the case for most jobs since the mandatory retirement age was eliminated in 1986. Perhaps the most agreed upon sign of retirement is when an individual receives a pension from an employer, the military or the government.

Retirement means more time. That’s true. Increased life expectancy and retiring “on time” or taking early retirement can lead to 20 to 30 years of retirement living. Note, at age 65, on average, a man can expect to live about 17 more years; a woman almost 20.

Retirement means less time. This sounds like a contradiction, yet it is possible. If life expectancy stays the same and people continue to work in their later years, the traditional retirement years may be history. Many boomers

indicate they never will be able to afford retirement and will “die with their boots on.”
Work is part of retirement. Work and retirement are no longer mutually exclusive. A new group has emerged – the working retired. These individuals work to stay engaged and, of equal or more importance, work for income.

Retirement (and aging) is big business. The 50-plus population has been identified as the older-consumer market, worth between $2 trillion and $3 trillion. For example, Rogaine is a $42 million industry; grandparents spend $50 billion a year on their grandchildren. Hearing aids are a $4.6 billion-a- year industry.

Retirement is the new social capital. There is no single definition of “social capital.” In the broadest sense, it includes volunteerism. It’s about social connections and making a difference.

Civic Ventures, a nonprofit think tank in San Francisco that focuses on the 50-plus demographic, has promoted encore careers as a way to use a valuable human resource and provide meaningful roles for older adults. An encore career occurs after one’s primary career; it consists of purpose, passion and a paycheck.

Civic Ventures launched the Purpose Prize that recognizes those age 60 and older who have solved major social problems. The good news is that older adults are being recognized and rewarded as social entrepreneurs – having a significant impact locally and globally.

Learning, creativity and passion are lifelong. According to the late Dr. Gene Cohen, noted geriatrician and psychiatrist, age adds an important dimension to creativity.

Ethel Percy Andrus founded AARP at age 74; Henri Matisse, bedridden with disease, produced brilliantly colored cutouts from his bed; Martha Graham danced until she was 75 and choreographed her last work at 96; and Winston Churchill won the Nobel Peace Prize for literature at 79. According to the late cartoonist Charles Schultz, “Life is a 10-speed bicycle … most of us have gears we never use.”

We have influence over how we age. According to Dr. John Rowe and Robert Kahn, authors of “Successful Aging” (Pantheon Books, 1998), 75 percent of our physical aging is influenced by our lifestyle; only 25 percent is determined by genetics. When it comes to cognitive aging, there is an even split: 50 percent is lifestyle, 50 percent genetics.

The new retirement reflects our increased life expectancy, our knowledge, influence and opportunities to live that next chapter of life as the best chapter.

Copyright 2011 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

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