Lilly Roadstones—Getty Images
By Dan Kadlec
September 1, 2016

Maybe we are getting a little carried away with this work-til-you-drop stuff. A recent post at CNBC.com and a string of supportive comments that followed take issue with the popular notion that working longer is the answer to myriad financial, physical and emotional problems associated with aging.

The commentary from Terence Hurley, who is retiring at age 62, didn’t exactly go viral. But it got a fair amount of media play, suggesting his point of view resonates. The Washington Post weighed in. The Huffington Post picked it up. MONEY’s Retire with Money newsletter took note.

Hurley wrote that he was “expecting congratulations” and even “jealousy” when he told friends he was retiring for good after nearly 40 years in public relations. Instead, many seemed to think of him as “less worthy” and “flawed” for calling it quits.

That’s how far the pendulum has swung. Only 20 years ago, during the dotcom craze, the conversation was about retiring before age 50. Today, it’s about working until age 80. Much of this, of course, is driven by economics. Instant riches from IPOs have all but vanished. Meanwhile, a great deal of the argument for working longer surfaced after the financial crisis.

But not all of it. We’ve known for some time that the once-idyllic retirement where you withdraw from society for golf and mahjong doesn’t work for most people. Collectively, this model of non-productivity strains society’s limited resources—and the boredom and isolation individuals often experience lead to depression and stress-related chronic conditions like heart disease.

These physical and emotional health issues may even shorten life. Researchers from Oregon State University found that healthy adults who retired past age 65 had an 11% lower risk of death from all causes. And of course there are plenty of money issues. Individuals are vastly under-saved for 20 or more years of retirement without work of some kind.

Nearly half of today’s retirees say they either have worked or plan to work during their retirement, and 72% of those approaching their retirement years say they want to keep working after they retire, Bank of America Merrill Lynch found. Financial issues are one reason. But many feel they are still at the top of their game with much to offer, and others want to stay at work because they enjoy it and want to hold on to those connections.

Yet Hurley makes some good points. For those who are financially prepared, and want out, they shouldn’t be sheepish about it. There are countless ways to remain engaged without a paying gig, including mentoring, volunteering, travel, caring for others, and going back to school. And there are countless hours to do all this even if you play a round of golf every day for the rest of your life. Retirees will have 2.5 trillion hours of free time over the next 20 years, according to a report from Bank of America and Age Wave.

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Hurley isn’t alone. Americans will spend $4.6 trillion on leisure activities over the next 20 years, according to the report. Unafraid of losing their identity, 89% of 65-year-olds say they are defined by their activities and pursuits of the moment—not their long career or as a parent.

The fact remains that many Americans will struggle with money issues in retirement and need to work, while others will simply want to work. But still others long to get out of the rat race—and that’s OK too.

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