Senior America's Information Magazine



What You Are Going to Do with Your New Twenty Years? 

A New Yorker cartoon depicts two middle-aged men drinking a beer at a bar. One bald, smiling guy says to the other, “Hey, did you hear the good news? Fifty is like forty used to be.” 

Taking the comparison a step further, 60 is now like 50 or even 40 used to be. As Martha Farnsworth Riche, former Director of the U.S. Census contends, the boomers and beyond will experience a new twenty years of life between middle and elder years — unlike any span in the lives of past generations. 

Dr. Riche isn’t talking about the 20 additional years we’ll have at the end of our lives due to increased life expectancy, but the 20 years of new opportunity between 50 and 70 or 62 and 82, or 57 and 77. 

It’s a time of health, energy, money and creativity for many seniors. In fact men and women currently in their 60s and 70s are already pioneering non-traditional patterns of living for those new twenty years.

I’m gathering information about this topic, because there’s not a lot of solid data at hand about what’s really going on with seniors relative to work, retirement, and leisure. 

With as a partner I’m hoping to fill in the gaps about what seniors are doing or want to do with the new twenty. The Work and Retirement Survey, only a click away, is a first step toward gathering current information about real life for seniors. Your anonymous responses will be used as the basis for magazine articles and a book. The goal?  To increase the visibility and promote the value and impact of our huge senior population!

I’m an organizational psychologist, researcher, and writer who’s fascinated by the idea of the new twenty years. Eventually I want to find out how this apparent demographic change affects people’s feelings, thoughts, and behavior concerning many aspects of their life in addition to retirement: money management, relationships with children and grandchildren, travel, volunteerism, hobbies, and even self-esteem. 

But right now, I want to know what all of you are thinking, feeling, and behaving in relationship to retirement. So please click on the Survey button, complete it and submit it to me. 

All responses will be grouped and reported anonymously. 

If you want to read about the results, they’ll be right here on in 3 months.

After completing the survey, click your way back here and read the rest of this article about people, trends, retirement and unretirement.

One of the surprising changes from the past is the trend toward “unretirement.” Men and women in their 60s are working longer, because they choose to, according to a 1999 study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. 

After almost a century of decline, the age of retirement started to steal upward in 1986 and continues in that ascension today. The EBRI researchers concluded that retirement, as we’ve known it in the past, is now only one small piece of the future big picture of seniors at work and at leisure. 

A 1998 AARP study finds that 80% of boomers plan to work, at least part time, during their retirement: thirty-five percent say they’ll work for enjoyment and one quarter say they’ll work for the money. A whopping 17% say they’ll start their own business while 16% say they won’t work at all.

Although some studies show senior volunteerism decreasing after traditional retirement, others describe huge, volunteer service endeavors, initiated, headed, and run by “retired” professionals and business men and women. Marc Freedman in his book Prime Time and Betty Friedan in Fountain of Age, encourage volunteerism as an alternative way to use our wisdom and experience in the new twenty.

In the new pattern of retirement, men and women are withdrawing from work gradually, in steps, over time: they move to part-time jobs or “bridge” jobs; they start a small volunteer project that turns big; they leave a long-standing career and start a new one; they go back to school to re-career; they start their own small business; or perhaps they work from home instead of at an office before they completely withdraw from work. The new retirement is best viewed as a process, sometimes a long process with several stages, that takes place over many years rather than as a one-time life event.

But wait a minute. Aren’t people in their sixties entitled to use their time to relax if they want to? 

Why would men and women in their sixties choose to keep on working if they don’t have to? What about “retired” people working as full-time-plus-more-time entrepreneurial volunteers? 

If you’re working full-time, for pay or as a volunteer, can you really call yourself retired? Or is this apparent trend toward more work activity during the new twenty years changing the very definition of retirement?

The dictionary defines retirement as “withdrawal from work, business, etc. because of age.” But what if you withdraw because of choice, regardless of age, is it still retirement? Or what if you leave your job, or your life-long career in your mid-sixties, and start another job or career? Are you retired, but working full-time? Will you retire several times instead of just once? If you’re in-between jobs are you unemployed, in transition, but not really retired? Can you be receiving Social Security, but still consider yourself not retired?  If you work full-time as a volunteer, are you retired or are you just not getting paid?

New questions, thinking, feelings, attitudes, and behavior are surfacing among men and women approaching, reaching, and passing 65, the age that historically was considered retirement age. 

“I want to be able to retire, but I certainly don’t want to actually retire. I can’t imagine not working,” says William a 67-year-old business owner. Joe, a lawyer, 60 and a driving, successful man, said he saw retirement as “the end.” 

He planned to keep on working until he died. Total withdrawal from work, the traditional retirement he saw his father take, was to Joe equal to death; death of identity, significance, power and visibility. 

Carla, a 59 year-old recently retired high-school teacher who left her job because she felt burnt out, is experiencing mixed feelings of relief and restlessness about what she wants to do, or not do, now. She’s hoping “something will come along” but she has no idea what that might be. Carla has done careful financial planning over the years, but has given no thought at all to what she wants to do with her new “free” time. 

A single business owner says she’s really tired of running her business, of being all things to all people, and would like to sell it, but won’t because she’s afraid of feeling and being “out of the loop” if she left the world of business. She decided to hire a coach to help her start to think through and plan how and when to make this first transition of what she considers many stages in the next twenty years of her life. 

On a totally different path, Reena, a woman who had what her husband thought was the ideal flexibility in her life as a realtor, decided to stop working at 62 so that she might have more time “to reflect” on life. She loved her job, but said she thought women wanted more time for introspection, personal development, and relationship building than men. 

She expected her husband, a management consultant, to work until he died, or no one wanted his services any more — whichever came first. 

Gina, a life-long business school professor doesn’t miss work “one single bit”. She says she’s so busy playing golf, traveling, playing in bridge tournaments, and spending time with family and friends that she can hardly remember or care that she was a fully-tenured faculty member at a prestigious college just a few years ago. 

Tom, a surgeon commented after his retirement at 65, “I’m so happy and relaxed being retired, that I’ve concluded that I may have been in the wrong job all my life.” Unlike many of his colleagues, after retirement he didn’t volunteer to do surgery in third world countries, but instead enjoyed extensive traveling, exercising, and building a new house.

Closely aligned with the ambivalence that many people experience are the comments of my friend Aline. As we hiked down from the top of Squaw Peak, a Phoenix landmark, I asked, “How is your new career going?” 

The length and complexity of her response surprised me. “I’m not sure what’s happening, but I seem to have lost my motivation. I was so excited about quitting medical illustration and painting animals instead, but now it seems less appealing. Realistically I do need to make some money. 

On the other hand, I love my life with fewer deadlines and structure. I’m really happy in my new marriage. I love riding horses, which I do four or five days a week. I’m enjoying spending more time not working. It’s strange. 

Am I just rationalizing that it’s OK to be treading water for a while? Am I retired and I don’t know it?  Sometimes I wonder if this is what happens as you get older.”

These short tales are all representative of the many 60-plus-year-olds who now contemplate choices that differ from those of their parents: personal development instead of or in addition to guiding or helping others, more work instead of more leisure, mental and physical challenge and achievement over rest and relaxation, individuality in contrast to conformity, even rebelliousness in place of placidness. 

Their inner quest produces more energy than angst, more excitement than conflict — but still there are some mixed feelings. Is working full-time going to shorten their life? Are they going to miss out on some important, unique experiences by continuing to work instead of retiring as their parents did? Are they continuing to work because they’re afraid to retire? 

Should they just do better retirement planning, figure out how and where they want to spend their time, instead of staying in their same job? Is what they’re experiencing part of a trend, a movement that comes from having more energy and health than previous generations of sixty-year olds? 

Is the “Silent Generation” (William Manchester’s label), which is now proceeding through the “Serene Sixties” (Gail Sheehy’s term) upsetting stereotypes and in fact pioneering what will become a significant social movement? 

Or is retirement actually the same as always with 50, 60, and 70 year olds using their new twenty years to have more time, more fun, more travel, and more relaxation?

Answering these questions is difficult because there is no central source of data about how many people are retiring, at what age, and what they are doing after retirement. No clear information exists either to identify how many people never retire, or who retire, but then go back to work again, part-time, full-time, in the same job or in a totally different job.

Researchers can look at Department of Labor information, which tells how many workers in which age categories are active in the workplace at any given time. 

That’s how the determination was made, by inference, that the retirement age is increasing: more older men and women are still active in the workplace. Social Security benefits in the past were considered one indication that people had retired and were no longer working. But even before President Bush relaxed requirements about amount of income allowed while receiving benefits, clear information about how many people considered themselves retired, but still were working, wasn’t available.

The more information we have about how seniors are thinking, feeling, and behaving relative to work, retirement (or unretirement), and leisure the better planning we can do. Help us all know more about what’s going on with our important group. 

If you haven‘t done so yet, please click on the Survey button, complete it, and submit it to me. All responses will be grouped and reported anonymously. 

If you want to read about the results, they’ll be right here in 3 months on

Thanks in advance for your valuable input.

Judy Tingley




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