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The new face of retirement

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Last month, legendary broadcast journalist Barbara Walters announced she will retire next summer at age 84. (She’s now 83.)

Why am I putting so much emphasis on her age? Because her extended working life and retirement well into her 80s may become the norm for baby boomers and perhaps even Generation X. It also points to the fact that our notion of what constitutes retirement is changing, and changing rapidly.

Quite simply, people are waiting longer to retire. It’s no longer a mass exodus from the workplace at 62 (or before), when the pension checks start rolling in and the car is packed and ready to roll down to Florida.

When Gallup recently polled U.S. retirees, it found that the average age they had retired was 61, up from 57 in the early 1990s. Those still working say they now plan to retire at 66, a substantial leap from 1995 when 60 was the “I’m outta here” age.

Of course, when talking about the wide swath that is the baby boomer generation, there are going to be variations. MetLife reports that more than half of the oldest boomers (those born in 1946) are now fully retired. (Easy for them…they probably have a company pension.) Yet, conversely, that means a lot of those elder boomers, now age 68, remain in the job.

But wait, there’s more.

Northwestern Mutual and Harris Interactive recently surveyed 1,500 Americans from age 25 and up on when they plan to retire. Only 6 percent envision retirement before the age of 60, while 52 percent expect to retire in their 60s and 32 percent in their 70s. Roughly 10 percent anticipate working into their 80s. I’m not sure whether to admire those hearty souls or wonder if they should have their heads examined.

Not so long ago, Senior Market Advisor sent out its annual Senior Survey. At third of the respondents were between 60 and 65, and a whopping 89 percent said they are still working. Now before you think this is solely because of economic reasons, 52 percent said it’s because they like to work. (However, other surveys indicate that many boomers as well as Gen X’ers don’t feel financially secure enough to retire.)

What do all these statistics mean? Obviously, the retirement age is moving upward, either through choice or necessity. But it also signals a sea change from our traditional concept of retirement. Health permitting, why not work longer? Or how about working part time or shifting into a new career altogether? It’s worth noting that Walters will continue being the executive producer of her talk show, “The View.” And it’s likely she’ll parlay her fame onto the lucrative lecture circuit. I don’t see her pulling a Greta Garbo. (You’ll have to google that, Millennials.)

There are implications for our society at large as well. I’m trying to get my head around a workplace populated equally by Millennials and baby boomers. The constant eye-rolling by both generations when they try to communicate. Like when a boomer asks a Millennial, “So, what is this box with an X on it?” Or when a boomer tells a Millennial, “In my day, we played outside.” Will workplace vending machines dispense both Red Bulls and Metamucil?

While it’s great that boomers (and Gen X’ers) work longer, thereby delaying their Social Security, at some point, those payment will commence and at a higher amount. How will our country pay for that?

And what does it mean for advisors? Working or not, Americans will still need financial products like life insurance, annuities and long-term care insurance. They must plan for a longer lifespan that may or may not be paid for with a job.

Because a lot more of them will retire in their 80s, like Barbara Walters did.

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