Why Boomers Are Ditching Retirement to Go To Work
Life + Money

Why Boomers Are Ditching Retirement to Go To Work


If you dream of retiring someday and spending every weekday golfing with your peers, an emerging trend could sabotage that vision:  your friends may be at work.

Today’s older Americans are dumping retirement or at least reengineering it to include work. In a November 2012 CareerBuilder survey, 60 percent of workers age 60-plus said that they’d look for a new job after retiring from their current company, an increase from 57 percent in 2011. By 2018, 24 percent of the American workforce will be older than age 55, up from 18 percent in 2008—that will make them the largest cohort of workers in the labor pool, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

RELATED: Attention Boomers: The Economy Needs You to Work Past 70

While some seniors are staying in jobs because they don’t have enough money saved, others continue to work by choice. Retirement Redefined, a report last spring from trend forecaster Innovaro http://innovaro.com/ notes that the majority of Baby Boomers want to keep going because they see their jobs as both financially rewarding and personally enriching. “I like the thrill of the hunt. It’s very satisfying to close a big deal,” says Ron Lanzo, an account executive at AFR Furniture Rental & Event Furnishings in New York City who turns 67 in October. He hopes to keep working until he’s at least 72.

Others can’t hack all the free time in retirement. Art Koff talks to many older people as founder of RetiredBrains.com a job board and resource center on retirement issues. “Many choose to continue to work because they’re bored and want to fill their day with something challenging,” he says. Koff himself is 78, works 50-hour weeks, and wants to work the rest of his life.

Richard Daume, 70, sold his Missouri printing business in 2003 so that he and his wife could move to Arizona to retire. After the first few months of leisure, “I couldn’t wait to get out and do something,” he says. So the couple bought Caring Senior Service, a franchise that provides transportation, meal preparation, and other in-home services to seniors in Scottsdale and Phoenix. Daume manages the company, his wife does the marketing, and they employ 125 people. In a 2011 survey of people 55 and older by Harris Interactive, 67 percent of respondents rated “remaining productive” as the biggest benefit of a long life.

In part, medical advances have made later-life work possible. Increased life expectancies mean the average man who retires at 65 can expect to live 18 years in retirement, and the average woman 20, Innovaro’s report notes. That’s up from previous generations—in 1950, when the average retirement age was about 67, men could expect to live about 11 years in retirement and women 14. “The post-age-65 life stage is getting stretched,” says Innovaro’s Chris Carbone. “People are saying, you know I actually have a good third of my life I could spend doing something.”

And it’s not just that we’re living longer—we’re healthier. Between 1983 and 2007, the share of adults ages 55 to 64 considered to be in fair or poor health declined from 25 to 19 percent and for those ages 65 to 74 from 33 to 22 percent, according to data from the Urban Institute’s Program on Retirement Policy.

It also helps that today’s older adults have finished more years of school than their parents did. Between 1989 and 2009, the share of adults age 55 to 64 with four or more years of college doubled from 16 to 32 percent, while the share not completing high school fell from 31 to 11 percent according to the Urban Institute data. All that education expands seniors’ job possibilities.

RELATED: The New Retirement: A Vital Mix of Learning and Love

Meanwhile, structural shifts in the economy, which have devastated some cohort groups, have helped older workers. While the manufacturing sector has contracted, companies are creating more white-collar jobs. In 1971, 57 percent of American jobs were physically demanding, involving activities like heavy lifting and long periods of standing; by 2006 that was down to 46 percent. Over the same period, the share of workers in cognitively demanding jobs—requiring skills like reasoning, writing, and decision-making increased from 26 to 35 percent. With a cell phone and a computer, Lanzo says he can continue to work for as long as he wants. But if he had a job that required regularly carrying 50 pounds, he’d be forced to quit in a few years.

Employers in and outside the knowledge industries are becoming more accommodating older workers. Pharmacy chain CVS, for example, offers a “snowbird” program that allows workers who seasonally migrate between two places to keep their jobs in both. More telework also will give people a bigger range of options, notes Innovaro’s report. Older workers will increasingly want more part-time options, or flexibility in where they can work, says Carbone.

Those could help keep experienced staff like Lanzo around even longer. Even though he loves his work, Lanzo says his ideal schedule would be a 20-hour week, working Tuesday to Thursday. With the extra time, he’d do more volunteering, go fishing with his grandchildren, and work part-time at the tasting room of a wine library.

Many older workers like Daume are building in their own flexibility by starting companies. A 2009 Kauffman Foundation study found that those ages 55 to 64 had the highest rates of entrepreneurship of any age group.

In his business, Daume said he’s delegating more than he would have when he was younger—that lets him work less than 40-hour weeks and fill in for friends on golf outings when someone drops out. He and his wife have no plans to quit working for now. “We’re taking it a couple of years at a time,” he says.