Baby Boomers Will Redefine Retirement on Own Terms
Meryl Davids Landau
Baby Boomers' Next Act: This generation will redefine retirement on its own terms: where to live, whether to work, and how to enjoy life
hours than ever. But he is thrilled with his career turn and has no thoughts of stepping down. "It's nice to hit profit goals and make a company successful, but it's much more rewarding to watch people at the bottom of their game transform their lives right in front of you," Johnson says. His corporate experience helps him to manage the 90-employee,
If pundits have it right, Johnson may well be the poster child for the retirement of the future.
Not content to exit the workforce because they've hit some predetermined magic age, those of the baby boom generation -- the first of whom turn 65 next year -- are expected to transform their later years, much as they altered every life phase they have passed through since making their entrance in 1946.
"This is a generation used to being in center stage. The idea of stepping to the sidelines is not going to play with many boomers," says
More than money.
Part of the impetus behind the expected new path is, of course, financial. With private employer retirement plans having moved toward 401(k)s, boomers are less likely than the previous generation to have pensions financing their post-work years. Moreover,
Another key factor, however, is that boomers are finding the current retirement landscape wanting.
The notion of taking that time and withdrawing to a permanent vacation dates back only to the 1960s, Dychtwald says. Before that, most people were not expected to live many years after they ceased working, if they stopped at all. "There's a dawning realization among boomers that a life of pure leisure, with no challenge or stimulation, is both unaffordable and boring, especially since -- with increasing life spans -- this phase might last for 30 years or more," Dychtwald notes.
Boomers are also the generation that announced early their intention to change the world. If they got sidetracked for, oh, about 40 years, as they raised their children and earned their paychecks, many still harbor the dream.
A 2008 survey by
"At a certain life stage people have always asked themselves, 'What should I do next?' But where the last generation primarily answered that by planning for retirement, increasingly people want to do something with meaning," says
Fortunately, boomers' desire to continue working dovetails with an expected shortage of younger workers who would otherwise take their place. Once the recession is over, researchers at
That doesn't mean seniors will want to continue working full time.
Many will demand part-time hours, more vacation, or the ability to work at least sometimes from home. "At this stage, people have other obligations and desires, which may involve their health, the needs of their parents or grandchildren, or just recreation and travel. They want work that offers flexibility," Alboher says.
However, to get and keep their jobs, boomers will need to adjust to a rapidly changing workplace in coming years, cautions
"Millennials have a different way of working, and boomers will have to adapt to stay relevant," Meister says. For example, she envisions a not-too-distant day when team leaders will routinely motivate and manage employees across the globe without ever meeting face-to-face -- something today's younger generation knows about from playing online multiplayer computer games. Marketing and communicating via social networking sites will also become the norm. "Older employees frequently tell me they don't have time for social networking because they're 'too busy working.' But that's part of many jobs now, and will be increasingly so in the future," Meister says.
As boomers continue working, they won't be able to pack up and relocate to isolated retirement havens like "Del Boca Vista" -- the south
A recent survey by builder
That's the conclusion
Some boomers may migrate to apartments in urban areas, with their cultural offerings and good public transportation, or to college towns, with their vitality and intellectual stimulation. Others may inspire developers to create new forms of housing in their own city or town.
One alternative housing model that already has a toehold in
To foster community, the development's homes, typically a couple of dozen, are clustered around large pedestrian-only areas and a shared "common house" where many of the social activities occur. At the same time, the individually owned homes allow for privacy when desired. "Cohousing appeals to older people because they can depend on their neighbors to be supportive. People age better among neighbors with whom they have close relationships," says
A few (including one in which Leach lives) allow only seniors as residents (some have been built near mixed-age developments to prevent isolation). So far, 116 regular neighborhoods and three seniors-only communities (a fourth breaks ground in
Meeting needs.Wherever they live or work, boomers will likely want to preserve one traditional retirement perk: the ability to pursue hobbies. And companies will undoubtedly accommodate their interests, whether it's playing golf, learning Mandarin, or spending time at an ashram. "Boomers have learned that, when you have such generational gravitas, you can make a marketplace," Dychtwald says. "Their sheer numbers will force businesses, colleges, transportation systems, and other industries to continue bending to their needs," such as by creating flexible work schedules.
Boomers will continue to volunteer, but not just by ladling stew in soup kitchens. Experts expect them to use their education and expertise more, such as by mentoring or teaching.
As members of this generation move through their later years, they have the opportunity to make one more lasting mark. They can create a new balance in which work, learning, relaxation, and social contributions infuse the retirement period. "Society hasn't previously challenged our elders to make a contribution or replant their wisdom," Dychtwald says. "As boomers do that, society will benefit, and so will the tens of millions of longer-living men and women who will continue to feel satisfied with their lives."
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