Just about anyone over the age of 50 has seen the barrage of new labels for today’s post-retirement lifestyle: Retirement 2.0. Encore Careers. Next Act. Third Age. Not Your Parent’s Retirement.
Forget the marketing hype. When it comes to figuring out your retirement plan, here’s the best strategy: take a good look in the mirror. What you’ll see, if you’re really paying attention, is the definition of retirement that matters to you. And the good news is there’s more opportunity today to design the kind of retirement you want than ever before.
The more research I read, and the more experts I talk to, the more I’m convinced that nearly every kind of retirement option has been heavily road-tested by those who came before. There have always been people who continued to work during retirement—the most powerful and successful people, in fact, tend to never retire. They are having too much fun. Bill Gates will never really leave Microsoft. He continues to work longer hours “in retirement” than the rest of us do at our office jobs. Warren Buffett? They will have to pry a can of cherry coke out of his cold, cold, cold hands before he stops working.
You don’t have to be Warren Buffett, either. Plenty of ordinary people have reinvented their lives in their later years. Older people have always made great entrepreneurs as well as creative artists and inspirational leaders. Often, having a lot of money has nothing to do with the levels of engagement and enjoyment that older people derive from being busy. Sunset years? Hardly.
Continued work in your later years will make your lifestyle during whatever-you-want-to-call-retirement easier to afford—and more comfortable and enjoyable as well. Here are three key trends that should put a smile on your face when you look in the mirror:
Living longer. Yes, you need to make realistic allowances for health problems. But most of us should assume we will live two or three decades past age 65. Take a look at this 2011 life expectancy data from the National Center for Vital Statistics. As you can see, someone age 70 can expect to live to nearly 86, on average:
|Age||Remaining Life Expectancy (Yrs.)|
Of course, average numbers disguise a lot of differences. People with college educations, who tend to earn more money, will live a lot longer than average life expectancy. So run the numbers as if you plan on lasting to age 100, and update your will to bequeath what’s left over if you don’t.
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Improved healthcare. The quality of your medical care will be better than ever. Once the wrenching transition to Obamacare has moved into our rearview mirror—and it eventually will—what we’ll see in front of us is a huge shift toward wellness. Not only will our lives be longer but we live more of that time in good health. Yes, there eventually will be a fall-off into frailty. But increasingly that period won’t occur until just before our death. The technical phrase for this doesn’t sound pretty: compressed morbidity. But the trend is terrific. Better healthcare, more effective drugs and physically active lifestyles are a ticket to a higher quality of life in our later years.
Market power. As our society ages, older people are becoming a new mainstream group. Companies are shaping new products and sales pitches for us—they know that older people control the lion’s share of the nation’s wealth. So we’re likely to see a new wave of positive attention to older Americans. Of course, that’s what companies do to sell stuff. What’s important here is the growing visibility of older Americans, which will encourage a celebration of the diverse and interesting paths they have decided to follow in old age. And in turn, more older Americans will be encouraged try and succeed at lots of different things in their later lives. That will benefit all generations.
Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging and health. He is an award-winning business journalist and a research fellow at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.