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A time of transition

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The baby boomers have reshaped society. Now they are rewriting the rules of retirement.

For many boomers, they’ve had their “boom” time. Now, they’re ready for the next stage of their lives. In a recent MetLife Market Institute study, researchers delved into boomer “attitudes and behaviors” as they make the transition into whatever’s next.

According to the Institute’s director Sandy Timmerman, the study shows that some of the current “conventional wisdom” that boomers want to work forever is not true for all of them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t working. For the 65-year-old boomers who have not retired, many are considering working until even longer than in the past. Consistent with prior studies, major concerns revolve around having adequate finances, staying active and productive and long-term care costs.

With a large majority of these oldest boomers without a living parent (76 percent) and 83 percent of those with children now also having grandchildren, much of their attention has turned to these younger generations. Of the approximately one in four who have at least one living parent, the incidence and activity of elder care has remained steady at 14 percent.

Key findings in the study

  • Forty-five percent of 65-year-old boomers are now fully retired (up from 19 percent in 2008), with another 14 percent reporting that they are retired but working part-time or seasonally.
  • Of those who have not yet retired, 61 percent plan to retire at the same time as they planned one year ago. On average, boomers who have not yet retired plan to do so by age 68.
  • Almost four in 10 respondents (37 percent) who retired earlier than they had planned cite health-related reasons for doing so, another 16 percent pointed to the loss of a job or job opportunities. Those who retired later than they had planned mention needing a salary to pay for day-to-day expenses (27 percent) and a desire to stay active (13 percent) as the reasons for delaying retirement.
  • The majority of boomers (63 percent) have also started receiving Social Security benefits; of those, half started collecting before they had originally planned.
  • Six in 10 boomers are at least somewhat confident in the ability of Social Security to provide adequate benefits for their lifetime.
  • Seven in 10 retirees report liking retirement “a lot” while another two in 10 say they “like it somewhat.” The majority of boomers like the word “retirement” to describe their life stage and feel it is as they expected it to be. 

A Lasting Impact

In a study commissioned by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, historian W. Andrew Achenbaum theorizes about four lasting impacts the boomer generation has had on American society.

The three boxes of life: Education, career, retirement

According to Achenbaum, the boomers rearranged the three boxes of life. In the pre-boomer world, many Americans entered the workforce after high school and worked with a single company until retiring in their 60s. Boomers did things differently, including college, which set back the career path by as much as half a decade. Not only that, but they changed jobs and careers much more often than their parents. Some even have found second or “encore” careers instead of taking the traditional route to retirement.

One for all, all for one

The boomers aren’t solely responsible for bringing equality to the table, whether regarding race, religion or ethnicity, but they certainly were among those on the frontline championing rights through the ‘60s and ‘70s. According to Achenbaum, they “institutionalized an ethos of inclusivity in U.S. society.”

Live long, live strong

When boomers hit the world in 1946 the natural life expectancy hovered in the 60s. These days, it’s not improbable for them to stare at the century mark. During the boomer’s salad days, major medical advancements in heart disease and strokes as well as changed behaviors (smoking cessation, dietary modifications) have taken place. 

Follow the spirit, see the world

“Not content with living their parents’ lives, boomers pursued education, a multi-faceted work-life and a robust retirement,” says Achenbaum. “Most boomers exercised considerable independence in their life choices. They helped to ensure that freedoms applied to African-Americans, women, new immigrants and gays, not just middle-class white males.”