How Long Will You Work?

How long will you work?  When will you retire?  Will you ever retire? 

For many of us, whether and how long we work will be determined by finances.  For others of us, working beyond retirement is something we choose because we find work fulfilling.

People work far beyond retirement age – some for their entire lives – for many reasons.  

shot of an elderly woman leaning over a table and working on a laptop wearing a headset

A recent article on, No retirement for these older folks, just work by Stephanie Chen, examines this trend.  She quotes a 91 year old letter carrier, Morris Wilkerson who says, “I’d rather work than be idle.”

Part of the reason for those mid-life and above to continue working is increased life expectancy.  The article continues:

“As life expectancy grows, healthcare advances, men and women are choosing to forgo retirement…By 2012 nearly 1/5 of the U.S. workforce will be over 55.”

Personally, this issue is being discussed by many of my friends, colleagues and acquaintances because we are all mid-lifers (we hope).  How we face the decision of whether to retire or not is as individual as our personalities.

My husband’s cousin, who is wealthy, decided to retire in his late 50s largely because he attended two funerals that made him realize that he didn’t want to wait to retire.  One funeral was of a former colleague who died the day after he retired.  While this cousin had lucrative work that he enjoyed and an impressive title, he decided he wanted to have more time to do the things he wanted to while he could.

Other friends have retired from long-term jobs and have started businesses, devoted time to neglected talents and interests, or are studying and traveling.  Some have important volunteer gigs that keep them as busy as their former jobs did. Several are working part-time jobs that are less demanding than their former careers.   

Still others friends and acquaintances have faced mandatory retirement or were laid-off.  Those who received buy-outs in the face of a layoff were, in general, happy.

I left my last job because I was burnt out after a nine year stretch of 70 hours weeks.  I continue to work because I can’t afford not to, but for three years have strung together consulting gigs and part-time work rather than going back to one full-time job.  I like the flexibility this affords me.  I no longer feel the need to prove anything or to have my precious time totally owned by one employer or title.  (We’ll see how long I can maintain this financially.)

There are benefits to continuing to work beyond traditional retirement age.  They include:

  • Having something to do. (Having a purpose in life is important whether it is through work or other activities.)
  • Having a schedule. (A schedule helps keep one active and focused and keeps days from blending into one another.)
  • Opportunity for social interaction.
  • Boredom relief.
  • Additional money.
  • Opportunity to share knowledge and skills.  (This is crucial both for older people and for the information it gives younger people.)
  • Fun (work can be fun when you’re not striving for advancement but rather have found your right livelihood).
  • Keeping peace and balance in a marriage or cohabitating relationship. (It can be challenging for couples to be in a home space full-time.)

The CNN article also notes that “older workers are more loyal and may be more productive” (in jobs that don’t demand physical prowess).  It notes that certain fields are more likely to retain older workers including academics, law and medicine.  The challenges it notes are that “wages are lower than other age groups,” and that older workers have a “harder time getting hired.” 

There are various employment agencies dedicated to hiring older workers and, of course, AARP, "the exclusive community for people 50 up,” is chock-full of information and inspiration.  (I have also heard that their annual conventions are incredible.  This year’s is being held in Orlando, Florida.)

As for me, whether I am ever able to retire financially, I know that I do not intend to retire from life, ever, until I die.


Gal Tziperman Lolan, writing in an article, Career Transitions Working in your 60s,  in The Boston Globe shares the story of Margaret Harrison who has found work she loves after retiring from a corporate job.

Margaret Harrison spent almost two decades at Bank of New York Mellon Corp., making investments in community and economic development. When she decided to retire at 60, she wasn’t ready to stop working. She adapted skills acquired in the corporate world to help low- and middle-income families buy homes.

“You can’t retire at 60 and just stop,’’ said Harrison, a longtime Dorchester resident. “I need something to keep my brain active.’’

Harrison’s transition from finance to affordable housing provides an example of how people in their 60s can switch from doing well in their careers to doing good in the community.

The article goes on to detail how Harrison took a major pay cut but will receive health benefits until she is eligible for Social Security when she’ll take another reduction in pay so she continue to receive full benefits.

Karen Bojar, who writes a blog about retirement issues, has a couple of posts I encourage you to read in their entirety.  On a post, Random Thoughts about Work and Retirement, she shares this:

Karen also wrote another very provocative post that asks, Should we do more to encourage those older workers who can afford it to retirement to make room for young workers?

A few days ago I attended the funeral of the brother of a good friend. He had just retired at the age of 67 and was looking forward to enjoying his retirement years. When he didn’t show up for his retirement dinner, two of his children went to look for him and found him dead, apparently from a stroke. If I had any lingering doubts about the wisdom of retirement, this wiped them out.

People who can’t think of anything they would rather do than continue at their jobs, should of course continue to work. But for those of us who long for more time to read, to write, to travel, to tend our gardens, to work for a cause, to follow our passion whatever it might lead, we should not delay (Assuming it’s economically possible.)

She discusses the fact that there has to be attrition in the work force so that younger workers can have opportunities to work.   Read the comments, including mine, that rail, thoughtfully, against a mandatory retirement age.  Lost in the discussion about “moving over for the young ones” is the the concept of full-employment.  (There’s certainly enough work that needs doing in our society.)

A recent post from Wellheeledblog, Do you Get Paid to blog? Here’s How to Save for your Retirement, looks at various IRA options for self-employed people, including those who are sole-proprietors.  

Working for yourself brings a lot of excitement and opportunities. When work is fun, retirement might be the furthest thing from the minds of self-employed workers. But freelancers and small-business entrepreneurs shouldn't neglect saving for retirement, indeed, they must overcome certain financial obstacles to make sure they will be adequately protected for their golden years.

Byjane of led me to a wonderful article in the New York Times, Ready for Life's Encore Performances  by Sarah Kershaw, in a post, “The Rest of Our Lives is Looking a Lot Longer Now.”  Kershaw writes:

Research into the changing — and increasingly aging — work force has also been accompanied by encouraging findings on the mental abilities of the aging. While older people’s memories and ability to process information are not as sharp, their knowledge increases over time, and many say that is a vast untapped resource.

All of this points to the possibility of a kind of intellectual rejuvenation at a time of life typically thought best suited to winding down…

“We are nibbling around the edges of ways to change life, asking, ‘Should people retire at 67 or 69?’ ” said Laura L. Carstensen, a psychology professor at Stanford and the director of its Center on Longevity. “But the enormity of this has not hit people.”



Good and plenty!

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