Redefining Retirement is a National Challenge

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By Bill Zinke

The American concept of a “retirement age” of 65 was established in 1935. That was 80 years ago (almost as old as I am), and since then the thinking about when people should retire hasn’t evolved along with the times.

While peoples’ work interests can change as they age, the notion that people 50 and older (50+) have lost their value in the workforce is an erroneous assumption. This mindset needs to shift, and the best way to do this is for people 50+ to form a dedicated community to redefine retirement.

Today, every baby boomer in the U.S. is 50 years of age and older. People 50+ account for a third of the country’s population, a group of more than 109 million individuals that is increasing by thousands every day. Research shows that many in this group don’t want to stop working when they reach what we’ve been conditioned to think of as retirement age.

In 2014, Merrill Lynch co-sponsored a study of more than 7,000 pre-retired workers 50+; 72 percent said their ideal retirement would include working, a majority for non-financial reasons. Studies conducted by the MacArthur Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health indicate that people 50+ who continue working enjoy better health, indicate greater satisfaction with life and live more than four years longer than those who don’t.

People 50+ who stay productively engaged and socially connected past traditional “retirement age” tend to have a more rewarding life experience. They possess a wealth of experience and expertise that younger generations don’t have and should be considered integral members of their workplaces and communities. This group is a huge national talent pool that should be utilized to drive economic growth and social progress.

In 2000, I co-authored a paper with Dr. Elliott Jaques (creator of the “midlife crisis” concept in 1965), titled “The Evolution of Adulthood: A New Stage.” It defined a new third stage of life from 62-85 where many people can continue to add value through active engagement. People in this stage can contribute in many areas, including the workplace and volunteer activities.

The addition of 30 years to longevity is the greatest gift of the 20th century. The impact of demographic change is a megatrend that affects all Americans. The substantial majority of people 50+ are ready and able to forge ahead in meaningful activities that add value to their communities. They represent a large and growing talent pool with Double ESP™: experience, expertise, seasoned judgment and proven performance. The U.S. cannot afford, economically or socially, to have this group sit on the sidelines. Instead, people 50+ should be encouraged to get involved and continue to be productive contributors well into their older years.

This gift of longevity must be accompanied by reversing the mindset that people 50+ lose their value to economic growth. The time is now to develop a positive attitude about this important group and recognize the enormous value of its members and their ability to contribute to the country’s wellbeing. Doing this is a national challenge, and it is one that must be surmounted by redefining retirement. 

Bill Zinke’s bio:

Entrepreneur and expert on aging Bill Zinke is the founder of Enrich Life Over 50 (ELO50), a national grassroots organization for people 50 and older with the mission to enhance their quality of life. Based in Boulder, Colo., ELO50 will have 27 chapters in major cities throughout the country. Find out more at elo50.com.

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