Traditionally, retirement was short and peaceful. People worked jobs that were hard on the body—such as farming, manufacturing, trades work or railroad work. If you made it to retirement, you were relieved to have the chance to wind down your days in restful repose.
That all changed in the latter part of the 20th century. Retirees began to take advantage of affordable travel opportunities enabled by cars that could drive great distances and highways that could accommodate them, as well as regional intracontinental airlines. In the 1980s, exercise became a popular pastime and retirees could be found at fitness clubs, aerobics classes and racquetball courts. There was a sweet spot in time when retirement was short enough not to outlive savings and retirees were healthy enough to enjoy an active leisure life.
But a lot of things have changed over the past 30 years. More jobs are automated and life expectancy rates, especially for people who reach age 65, are longer than ever. By middle age, it is common to have developed one or more chronic conditions, making a long retirement a less-than-healthy one. Furthermore, we experienced a pretty severe recession and slow economic recovery, when many pre-retirees had to dig into their savings just to stay above water.
Another area that has changed is the transition from employer-sponsored pensions to 401(k) plans. This has fostered a different way of looking at retirement. Back when many workers had pensions, all they had to do was accumulate enough credits and they could retire with a guaranteed stream of income for life. That gave people something to look forward to. Now, with self-directed retirement plans, workers know that the longer they work the more they can save and the longer their investments have time to grow—which actually creates an incentive to work longer. Another reason people tend to work until at least age 65 is so they don’t have to pay for their own healthcare insurance, for which premiums have grown exponentially over the past 15 years.
In addition, the longer we earn an income the longer we can delay drawing Social Security benefits. Once you start taking a benefit, that payout level remains permanent throughout your life. However, the longer you wait, the higher the payout. In fact, people who delay to age 70 can take advantage of Delayed Retirement Credits, which increase their level of payout 5.5 percent to 8 percent a year past full retirement age.
Now that people are living longer, many are healthy enough to continue working longer as well. Plenty of employees want to continue working not only for the money, but for social interaction and intellectual engagement. When retirement was 10 years or less, that seemed like enough time to wind down and relax. But with today’s workers facing 30 years or more in retirement, the prospect of not having a regular place to go, people to see, and work to do for a few decades isn’t quite as appealing.
However, what if you hate your job and can’t imagine staying on past traditional retirement age? A recent study found that people who changed jobs in their 50s were more likely to work longer. In some scenarios, using well-earned experience can translate into a more rewarding job opportunity. Consider that even if you don’t earn more money, a lateral move could still yield higher financial rewards if you enjoy the new job and want to continue working there indefinitely.
Some retirees decide to go back to work because they’ve had a bit of fun but find they miss the day-to-day routine of work and having a broader network of interpersonal relationships. In fact, they often find their experience and expertise was sorely missed, and in some situations, are more valued by their colleagues. This might not happen in all cases, but the lure of renewed friendships, professional appreciation and additional income offer compelling reasons to come out of retirement.