The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies conducted a survey to explore the fundamental question, “What does retirement mean to you?” In selecting from a series of words associated with retirement, Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Millennial respondents alike cited “freedom,” “enjoyment,” and “stress-free” as their top picks.
However, despite this shared vision of retirement, the researchers emphasized that challenges lie ahead for all generations as they approach and transition into their retirement years:
People have the potential to live longer than any other time in history. This gift of extra time requires that we fundamentally redefine retirement and our life journeys leading up to it.
What is “Retirement’? Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies
Retirement ≠ Old Age
The most important change affecting retirement lifestyle expectations is that this stage of life is no longer equated with being old.
Since the turn of the last century, improved nutrition and advances in medicine and healthcare have added 30 years to our average life expectancy. Without question, this is a remarkable achievement, but one that also requires each of us to think differently about life at midlife and beyond and how we choose to live our lives.
In fact, all three generations surveyed for the 2019 Transamerica retirement study indicated that they were already thinking in terms of longer lives:
17 percent of Millennials, 11 percent of Generation X, and 9 percent of Baby Boomers are all planning to live to age 100 or older.
However, career development expert Helen Harkness, Ph.D., challenges our imaginations even more by considering the potential of experiencing a second middle age. In other words, she believes that we should reject the view that increasing longevity extends old age. Instead, she recommends a revolutionary perspective in her book, Don’t Stop the Career Clock:
If these extra years are handled wisely, our middle age will double dramatically into a new second midlife, while our ‘old’ age shrinks.
Harkness also believes that these extra years should be viewed as a precious gift and advises, “we must take an active hand in managing our windfall.”
Retirement ≠ Leisure
Not only are concepts of old age changing, but individuals are increasingly rejecting the notion that retirement is synonymous with leisure.
That’s because retirement for Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials has come to mean emancipation—freedom to do the kind of work (paid or unpaid) they as individuals find most meaningful. Harkness wrote that we are in a new age of learning how to live and work throughout our life spans:
By knowing what we want and doing what we love, we can continue life’s journey with creativity, wisdom, power, and purpose.
Similarly, Laura L. Carstensen believes, “People are happiest when they feel embedded in something larger than themselves and when they are needed.” Therefore, she encourages everyone living in the second half of life to envision the steps—large and small—that they can take to ensure a bright future:
Invest in yourself by learning something new. Design your world so that healthy habits come naturally. Diversify your social network by befriending a person from a different generation. Start a business that puts others to work. Think creatively about ways that an unprecedented number of mature, talented, healthy adults can address society’s great challenges.
Therefore, as the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity and author of A Long Bright Future, Carstensen has come to believe that the actions of today’s generations of older people will set the course for decades to come.