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Taking A Closer Look At The Reasons Seniors ‘unretire’

More U.S. seniors are working today than ever before, a trend marked either by older Americans choosing not to retire, or choosing to actually rejoin the workforce after an initial retirement. This year is also set to see the U.S. population grow older at a faster rate. The trend was the subject of a recent book, “Unretired: How Highly Effective People Live Happily Ever After,” written by journalist and management consultant Mark Peabody.

Walton shared some of his observations about the unretirement phenomenon in an interview with Yahoo Finance, including perspectives about what motivates people to keep working beyond retirement age.

“Engagement and contribution are the keys,” Walton said, saying his book was targeted primarily at people who have become accustomed to a certain level of success throughout their lives. “The idea of discontinuing work that matters to them and discontinuing the ability to make a contribution is a very painful thought. So what motivates them is fascination and love for their work and the desire to continue to make a contribution.”

Walton describes observing the trend of more senior participation in the workforce over the past several years, an observation that bears out according to previous research and data. But he became more curious once he started hearing from these older workers who were telling him it’s not necessarily all about money.

“I found it’s college graduates who are driving this thing, and it’s professional women,” he said. “That’s what’s changed in the last 30 years.”

Walton writes that much of the anxiety older people may feel about retirement centers on the lost social elements that it could bring, which they may see as a retirement “pitfall.”.

“The first pitfall is a loss of personal identity,” he said. “Nobody really pays much attention to it. But they’ve invested their lives in something that matters to them, and their identities are tied up with that work. Pitfall number two is loss of daily structure and schedule. And that’s no small thing.”

A third “pitfall” is a “loss of friends and social networks,” he said, suggesting a link between daily routines, interactions and cognitive performance. Isolation and loneliness do have links to cognitive decline.

Walton says that this trend is likely here to stay for a long time to come.

“If you are one of those growing millions of people who find that the track of life that’s been laid down, this idea of going to school, going to work, and then tuning out, is not right for you, you’re not alone,” he said. “Your interest and desire to continue to work and express yourself, rather than being lost in a lifestyle that doesn’t work for you, is something that you ought to pursue. It’s very possible to continue to work and succeed and express yourself to a very old age. This is the future.”

There are instances in which a phenomenon of an older worker influx has not fully materialized. Recent data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests that as many as 2 million baby boomers who were predicted to return to work in the years following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic are choosing to remain in retirement.

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