There are some key elements to a successful retirement, both practical and emotional:
In the US today, when we think about retirement, we probably tend to get a little sad. We hear from many different experts that retiring may not be something we can look forward to in our lifetimes. Good paying careers with pensions that can ease us into our retirement years are few and far between, and many young people are carrying significant amounts of debt with them from early adulthood (generally, debt from college).
Financial decisions aside, taking the steps to retire may be more of a psychological adjustment that we have considered.
Deciding to retire (or not) will likely have some impacts on your health and well-being. Some things to consider:
Just as with other aspects of aging, we have many myths that float around with regard to retiring.
In previous generations in the US, government sponsored retirement programs (social security) and pensions (from working a certain amount of years with a specific employer) were becoming the norm in society. These programs set the expectation that people worked toward retirement. The main goal was to work hard, amass as much money as possible, and live well during retirement.
In past generations, the "expected" age of retirement was 65, and the stories that got people's attention were those who were able to "beat the system" and retire a younger age. Are you going to be one of the lucky ones, who can retire early? Do you even want to consider retiring early?
Some people tend to identify very closely with their professions. They enjoy working, and going to work every day gives them a sense of meaning and purpose. From a psychological perspective, this way of thinking about work is important for us to know about ourselves. Some people enjoy what they do so much that it would be unwise for them to retire unless they have something planned for retirement that can take the place of the loss of career.
The decision to retire is about what you value. Are you a working type, or a creative leisure type? If you have always had a very active leisure life you may adjust very well to quitting a career and may be very happy and healthy in your retirement.
One important thing to consider is where your friends are. Are most of your friends work associates? Does a good part of your social life revolve around work and the people at work? If the answer is “yes,” you may want to postpone retirement until you cultivate the supportive social networks beyond your workplace. You can do this by joining clubs and organizations, volunteering if you have the time, and re-connecting with friends, family, and acquaintances.
Finally, although it seems like it is probably a LONG WAY off for most of us, in today’s uncertain jobs market, we must consider retirement at an early age, and we must put into place a plan that will help us achieve our retirement goals at a young age. Financially, we need to consider how we will get to a place where we can enjoy our “leisure years.” Likewise, we may also want to daydream about what we would do with our time. Will hobbies or interests that will fill your time? Have you realistically considered what your life will be like as a retired person?
Many people have unrealistic expectations about their retired lives. They imagine that they will take up golfing or tennis, begin hobbies, learn to play the guitar, travel, etc. A good test is to evaluate that part of your life currently. Are you involved in sports, hobbies, gardening or music and are you passionate about the pursuit of it? If that’s not the kind of person you are now, it may be unreasonable to expect that you will suddenly develop that passion when you retire.
One other consideration: how long will you live after retirement? Will you live longer as a retiree or a working individual? As we are living longer, many people spend a significant amount of time in their retirement years. My own grandmother, still alive at this writing at 93 years old) retired at 60. She’s been playing bridge for 33 years with the same core group of women in her neighborhood.
Researchers Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin have been studying seniors in their “Longevity Project.” They have shown that people who have meaningful careers and are especially productive have the longest lives. As Friedman and Martin state, “[s]triving to accomplish your goals, setting new aims when milestones are reached, and staying engaged and productive are exactly what those following the guideposts to a long life tend to do. The long-lived didn’t shy away from hard work for fear that the stress of it would lead to an early demise; the exact opposite seems true!”
Data from the Pew Research Center’s political typology report indicate the relationships between age and voting are complex. We generally tend to think that younger people are more liberal while older people are more conservative when it comes to politics, but there are some nuances to that thinking that we should examine.
The political typology report by Pew Research Center is based on a survey of more than 10,000 Americans. It finds that among the oldest Americans (those ages 65 and up), nearly two-thirds are at opposite ends of the typology. 32% fall into the two strongest Republican-oriented groups (what we call Steadfast Conservatives and Business Conservatives) and 33% are either Solid Liberals or Faith and Family Left, the two strongest Democratic-aligned groups.
As individuals our political views evolve over the course of our lives. But academic research indicates not only that generations have distinct political identities, but that our basic outlooks and orientations are set fairly early on in life. Through late childhood and early adolescence, attitudes are relatively soft and easily swayed but as we age into early adulthood, greater stability sets in and attitudes tend to be persistent as we age.
A metastudy by Columbia University researchers found some evidence of “generational imprinting.” The researchers identified five main generations of presidential voters that were shaped by political events during their formative years: New Deal Democrats, Eisenhower Republicans, Baby Boomers, Reagan Conservatives and Millennials. Pew Research Center surveys over the past two decades also have found evidence that generations carry with them the imprint of early political experiences. As an example of the findings of generational political imprinting, Americans who came of age during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, and who are now in their 70s and 80s, have fairly consistently favored Republican candidates, while those who turned 18 under Bill Clinton and his two successors have almost always voted more Democratic than the nation as a whole.
METASTUDY: A single study that reviews data from multiple sources to come to conclusions.
What does this information say about the future of politics in America? Well, we can likely surmise that we will continue to be a politically divided nation, especially as our population ages. But, we also can surmise that we may not be heading down a path of conservativeness (as is often assumed about the elderly and political participation). Instead, the elderly seem to be equally politically liberal, which is sometimes surprising to us when we don't take time to review the data.
One final note: from all of the lessons and information you've learned this semester, you should by know realize that ageism is a problem that many elders face. The stereotype we have of aged people is not true, and it is detrimental not only to those who are older than us, but to ourselves also (as we will inevitably face the same discriminatory actions as we age if we don't acknowledge these issues).
AGEISM: discrimination based on an individual's age
Although there were more people above age 65 counted in the 2010 US Census than in any previous Census ever conducted, seniors still struggle with stigmas placed on them in our youth-oriented society. Sadly, older people are commonly perceived as unsuitable employees, part of a demographic that is not worth advertising to because they are "set in their ways,” but as we have learned, the aging population are often quite adaptable to new situations. This neglect by the workplace and the media leads to widespread misconceptions about the lifestyles and usefulness of our senior citizens.
One thing you can do is be aware that there is an alarming amount of ageism in our society today. Being an advocate for the elderly will not only help them, it will help you as you begin to be identified as an elder. Like any level of stereotyping, ageism is damaging to all people exposed to this mentality, but especially to those who are most affected by the discrimination. People buy into untrue representations of the elderly, and even seniors are at risk of believing the false images of themselves that are so frequently shown to them.
Preventing the possibility of a self-fullfilling prophecy should be something we all work towards, for the betterment of self and community.
No matter if you decide to retire early or continue working in your career for many years, taking an active approach to the practical matter of retirement will help you achieve your goals. If you identify strongly with your work role/career, finding "replacement activities" will be of benefit to you.