People are living longer than ever before. It’s something we all hear all the time. It’s constantly in the news, on social media, and part of many advisor-client conversations. Unfortunately, most people have no idea what it really means.
This is evident when you talk to baby boomers about their retirement plans. On many occasions, when I tell clients we should plan for them to reach age 95 or 100, many grimace and say something like, “If I make it past 85 or 90 just take me outback and shoot me.” It’s a very common cliché in the retirement planning world and points to a major misconception.
Many people assume that living longer, means that they will be less capable for a longer period of time. I call it assembly line thinking. They tack extra years onto the end of the conveyor belt of life rather than on the front end of retirement. As a result, they assume that instead of spending 5 or 7 years in less capable situation, they will be spending 10-15 years wandering nursing home hallways.
So, let me set the record straight for what increased longevity really means. In it’s most basic form, it means that it is taking longer for people to feel old. Think about that for a second. It’s taking longer for people to feel old.
It’s a more useful and concrete way of saying 60 is the new 40 or that 70 is the new 50 because it opens up the door for those at or near retirement age to continue what they are doing, or venture down a new path. It helps break the stigma of traditional retirement age and can serve as a major step for addressing ageism in society and the workplace.
The idea that it is taking longer for people to feel old can be refreshing on the surface, but right now it’s very confusing for many people, and happens to be one of the primary reasons that baby boomers absolutely hate the term retirement. I can tell you first hand that in running the Retirement Coaches Association, working with advisors, HR managers, organizations and hundreds of people who are at or near retirement age each month, the most common thing I hear is that people at or near retirement age, despise the term retirement and would abolish it if possible.
They’re frustrated because as they creep up on 59½, 62, 65 or 70 they don’t feel old or like they are ready to step down, step aside, or be put out to pasture. In fact, many are feeling better than ever before and are looking for ways to be and do more. But guess what? Not all of society is in sync with boomers as they deal with this. The stigma remains that people are eligible for old-age benefits and old-age insurance at age 62 and 65.
We have all been programmed to think that once you get there, it’s time to hang it all up for golf and grand kids. And if you don’t there will be consequences. People will not only think you didn’t save enough, don’t want to spend more time with a spouse or family or maybe that you don’t have a life outside of work.
It’s a difficult situation with layers and feelings that aren’t easy to explain. What would you do if you felt more capable, knowledgeable, and motivated than ever before, but people dismissed you or down played you because of your age, hair color, or years of experience?
What we need to do is break the stigma associated with age and retirement. We have to establish a new way of thinking that when people reach age 62, 65, or 70, it’s time to change gears, not necessarily stop them.
It’s one reason why I suggest we replace the term retirement with a plural version, retirements. As people reach this stage and seek out more education, a new business opportunity, or career choice, they will be able to re-invent themselves multiple times and in the process, retire more than once.
Of course, the down side of this reality is that it will also require changes to things like Social Security and Medicare. I’m not looking to get involved in a political debate on this topic, but when it comes to ageism and how older adults are treated in the work force, we need to reprogram the system in terms of what is considered old or unable to work.
I know people don’t like the term old, but it’s not going away, and so I would rather address it in terms of what people think, say, and do rather than putting a positive spin on it. Therefore, I believe re-defining when people receive help or support has to change if we want people in the workforce who are age 60-75 to be celebrated rather than relegated to society’s outdated beliefs about aging.
The idea that it’s taking people longer to feel old offers a new outlet for people to make the most of our increasing longevity, while providing some perspective of the issues of ageism and entitlements.