March 23, 2018

Our Retirement Image: Do Younger Folks Have It Wrong?


One of my daughters is 37 year old. That places her squarely in what is called Generation X, or the group that follows the Baby Boomers. These are the folks that will inherit whatever the 76 millions Boomers leave behind (the good, the bad, and the ugly).

Recently she was visiting us between business trips. At one point she said, "You guys are not like retired people."  That caught my attention. After 17 years away from working world I would have thought we were about as close to "retired people" as one could find.

So, I asked what she meant. Her answer was important because it revealed an image issue that is probably quite common. She meant that Betty and I are active, have many interests, find new things to do and try, and aren't content to just watch the clock tick.

Her description of her parents fits most of the folks who read this blog and those who leave comments. Being active, learning and trying something different...that seems about right for most of the retired people I know, both in person and through this blog.

I asked her a followup question: "What retired people do you know who aren't like us?"  She named some couples who spend most of their time playing golf, going to cocktail parties, watching TV, or stuck in a routine that rarely varies. In her mind that is what the majority of retired people do; mom and dad are outliers.


Her assumptions put in focus an image problem that retirement continues to have, especially with younger people, about how we spend this stage of our life. And, that is important because it probably influences their likelihood of planning for their own retirement. If they see it as a dull, static part of life, then why would they ever want to retire? 

If retirement is the end of the road, then saving for that future wouldn't be an important priority. Keeping one's health as long as possible, maintaining a stimulated brain....why worry if it is only used for watching TV or playing Bunco?

I propose no grand solution, just some common sense steps. What can we do to help change the outmoded ideas that the younger generation has of retirement? Spend more time with those in their 30's and 40's if that is an option for you. Join clubs or volunteer organizations that have a nice mix of age groups. Go to events at school or church in which grandkids participate...that will put you in close contact with parents of this age group. 

Live outside a retirement community if that fits your needs and interact with dog walkers, kids and parents in the park, your neighbors. If you need to shop, don't go when you are feeling grumpy or out of sorts. Your attitude in public can go a long way to dispelling the image of the angry old person!

Obviously, it is not our sole responsibility to change a flawed perception of retirement. Movies and TV do a great job of pigeon-holing us as has-beens or confused oldsters. Sometimes our reluctance to embrace new technology, or change in any form feeds that perception.

 What we can do is live a life that belies that stereotype, in full public view, and chip away at the wrong image, one swing at a time.





Note: I am visiting dear friends in California this weekend, so I may be a bit slower responding to your comments.  However, I am very interested in what you have to say, so have at it!

28 comments:

  1. I believe the image that some have of retirees can be systemic (TV over the years, commercials of all types, governmental attitudes, etc) but also self-generating. Perhaps the former plays off the latter, which can be contributing to impressions from all age groups of retirees. Too often the grumpy, bitter retiree takes the forefront out in public over active, vibrant retirees (maybe the active, vibrant retirees are on the road or being active too often to be seen by others?) I guess what I am trying to say is that retirees can be their own worst enemies when it comes to public perception. If you only want to talk about your ailments, deaths of individuals you know or don't even know, and so forth, you will give a particular impression of retirees. Change the narrative to show a more vibrant side, get out and volunteer, be pleasant and kind to others, and you will give off a different vibe. Personally no one ever believes Deb and I will be turning 65 this year, both because of an active lifestyle and, in Deb's case, a youthful face. Impressions of retirees will change not because we demand it, but because it will be foolish for others to stay to an impression that belies the reality. You and Betty have a safe trip to CA this weekend, Bob. Oh, yeah - Go Syracuse!

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    1. Yea for the Orangemen!

      You and I are singing the same song. The only image we can control is the one we project. Of course, someone might argue that we need not worry about incorrect images, we live our life the way we want and how others perceive it is not our concern.

      I disagree. An image of retirement that is out of sync with reality can affect how we are treated by society and governmen programs designed to help us. It can affect how the younger generations prepare for their future.

      An out of date image does have unintended consequences.

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  2. In my view, outliers are the new normal! Even my older retired friends are still very active... and everyday is different. There might be a game of bunco (or other card game) but there's also RV-trips, scuba dive trips, regular museum visits, volunteer dog walking, daily walks, healthy eating plans with cooking classes, grandkid sleepovers... and the list goes on. Finding time to get togehter is sometimes a challenge as they are so busy. I'm not sure how long it takes to change perceptions.... but if I think back to the women's liberation movement.... it's decades!

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    1. You make a very important point about how long it takes to change perceptions. The fine folks who participate in this blog do not fit the stereotype at all. We are helping to establish a new normal.

      Thanks, Patricia

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  3. Generally speaking, members of the generations that came before the Baby Boomers had a tougher life and fewer opportunities, and your daughter’s idea of what retirement is like was probably defined by those generations as she was growing up. My husband and I are early retirees and Baby Boomers. I find it hard to say the words, “I’m retired,” because I associate that phrase with my Mom and Dad’s retirements – both were members of the Greatest Generation. When they retired, my Dad worked in the garden, watched TV and visited his siblings who lived in town. My Mom made quilts and clothes, went on day trips with the “Senior Citizens group” and visited with her friends and relatives. They didn’t travel because Dad didn’t like to and they couldn’t really afford to.

    Back then, retirees had pensions and Social Security but didn’t have the investing tools like IRA’s and 401K’s (which came along in 1974 and 1978, respectively) that we Baby Boomers have had available to us for much of our working lives. The “World Wide Web” wasn’t invented until 1989 – three years after my Dad’s death and when my Mom was in her mid-70’s. Today’s retirees have the power of technology driving nearly everything in their lives – we can continue our education without leaving home, apply for a job across the country, stay in touch with our kids five states over and book the cheapest flight available today to go visit them. Life expectancy has increased due to advances in medical technology and the understanding of our health. These changes in society have led to a revised definition of retirement for many – including my husband and me. Our retirement funds allowed us to leave the workforce before we were eligible to collect Social Security and provide some of the financial resources we use to travel. Managing a couple of rental properties keeps our minds and bodies actively engaged, as does following our passions like boating, camping, reading and blogging. One thing that hasn’t changed from my parents’ retirement to mine is spending time with friends and family – just being with people we cherish enriches our lives regardless of our leisure activities or financial status.

    I just asked our 18 year old daughter what she thought of when someone mentions “retired people.” Her response – older people, like in their 80’s and 90’s who move to Florida and chill. I found it interesting that, despite a gap of about 20 years between our daughters, the perception of what retirement entails was still the same – but I wonder what ages your daughter thinks of in reference to retirees. Then I asked our daughter, what about people like Dad and me, people who leave the work force early but remain active? Our daughter’s response – that’s what I want to do; I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop working 100% but I want to be able to do what interests me. So, her vision of what HER retirement will look like seems to be more in line with that of the Baby Boomers. It looks like our perception of retirement hasn't kept up with the reality of it. Very interesting, for sure!

    Bob, I really have to say that I’m thrilled to have found your blog. I apologize for such a long comment, but your posts are just that thought-provoking! Safe travels to you and Betty!

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    1. I absolutely love this comment Mary. Asking your daughter to respond is the perfect compliment to what I found from my daughter.

      My parents lived the retirement style of their generation except for more travel. But in their 70s they bevame complete homebodies amd their lives began to shut down. That is not the future I see for Betty ane me until at least a decade older.

      Thank you for the nice compliment. Your involvement is very much appreciated.

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  4. Bob, your article is thought provoking and you bring up several good points.
    Interesting thought for young people--who really wants to save for a retirement that is viewed as the end of the road?
    Retirement is not what it used to be, however the statement you make saying, "Live outside a retirement community..." gives me pause. I don't believe that retirement at a community should be portrayed as a slower paced life. I'm employed at Willow Valley Communities, a 55 plus senior living community in Lancaster, PA. It's filled with active, engaged seniors. Many say they wish they would have moved here earlier in their retired life just to have more time to participate in the opportunities that are offered here. Fitness, college level learning, travel, over 50 interests groups and clubs to join, and numerous other opportunities are awaiting those who choose to move to a senior living community such as Willow Valley. As we market our senior living communities we're always fighting the same stereotypes of retirement that you describe but just because a senior chooses to live in a retirement community doesn't necessarily mean that person lives a slower paced life.

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    1. I agree with you. In fact, Betty and I will move to a CCRC at some point.

      The only "problem" is by living in an age restricted community the ability to model an active retirement lifestyle goes unseen by those in younger generations.

      Of course, by involving oneself in things that occur outside the retirement community, that is not an issue.

      I must admit that my statement in the post is not clear. Being active in a retirement community is one of the many benefits of living there. I appologize for inferring otherwise.


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    2. A dear friend of mine moved into Friendship Village last year at age 78. A private casita. She still works part time as a social worker. She is often flown by helicopter to the Indian Reservations to do crisis management!! She meets with friends who live in the community AND with us "old friends" who have no problem going to meet her at the new bar and grill in the village, or we meet at a restaurant in Chandler. She does enjoy all the water aerobics, dining with others most evenings in the dining hall and the restaurant on "campus." She lives in a small but beautifully decorated casita and has access to busses that take her to downtown musical and theater events for when she does not want to drive. I like what I see there, though I hope we don't "need" to go till our 80's. You have to "time it." Can't get in if you ALREADY have certain ailments.. soo-- have to just think ahead and see how it goes.. but there's plenty of very active adults in communities like that.! (As you know!) Over time, elders do move into apartments and then maybe even assisted living, but that's the point--active when you can, but safety and health care when you need it.I like the whole model!!!!!!

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  5. My mom who is 95 retired at 62 after working most of her life and took up upholstery classes, stain glass classes, joined exercise and walking groups, went on trips with the local Senior center, was very active in her church and maintained a nice group of friends. She was very active until about 85 and then slowly dropped out of her groups except for the Senior center events and her exercise group until she turned 89. I have been watching her and I realize that being retired from work does not mean you are retired from life. But physical aging happens over time if you don’t have a health problem and at some time being a home body may fit your capability.

    It seems to me that aging is a process and that being as active as you can and want to is important but at some point there will be physical limitations. What I like is when people don’t assume I am elderly just because I am 70 but acknowledge that I am an active person and have capabilities to do a lot of different activities. Maybe part of the education of younger people is that there are stages of getting old and not just a one size fits all after 65.

    Great discussion.

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    1. Retirement is no longer a one size fits all stage of life. if someone chooses to be active mentally but not so much physically that is just as valid a choice as the reserve.

      And,as you note, we do go through stages that means we are constantly adjusting.

      Thanks for participating.

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  6. Of course it's a perception problem, how many of us Boomers thought the same thing when we were 40? The reality is of course different and it probably always was -- Plato was in his 80s when he died. To change perceptions get out in the community and engage with younger people, they are always glad to have a helping hand from someone with the time and expertise to contribute. But don't expect them to automatically defer to your "years of experience" which may be the hard part for some of us and perhaps where the grumpy old man stereotype came from. Recognise that it's a new world and they are running things now as we did when we were their age.

    It's not all one sided ageism either. I recently saw a survey that said 75% of Boomers think they look younger than their peers. It seems like we have little perception problem of our own.

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    1. Well, I know I feel at least 10 or 15 years younger than my age, but pictures of my sagging neck remind me of reality.

      Deferring to us is not part of our culture. Frankly, I would rather just be treated as an equal than as a wise sage. Who needs that kind of pressure!

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  7. Your opening reminded me of my daughter who came home from school one day and said she was so glad she did not have a working mom. Since I had a full time job, I was surprised and perplexed. What did she think working moms were like? How were they different from me? Why wouldn't she want one?

    Anyway, that's a bit of a digression, but it does speak to the point of how our perceptions, accurate or not, guide our thinking and choices.

    It's interesting that many people who are in our Baby Boomer generation share your daughter's view of retirement. I had lunch yesterday with a friend who said he could never retire because he would be so bored. And of course you know another friend of mine who is no longer happy working, but thinks retirement would be even worse.

    Now I'm curious about what my own kids think of retirement. I'm going to ask them! Especially my youngest--since she didn't think I was a working mom, I wonder what she thinks I am now!

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    1. We will have a great discussion about this subject when we visit you later this year!

      Boredom during retirement only happens if you permit it.

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  8. Wonderful topic. Since our daughter was in High School, she has wanted to have a successful career, retire early and live her life traveling. I am happy that we influenced her to do things in that order. Many of her generation graduate from college and hit the road. They seem to think that building a future can be postponed. I do hope that works out for them, but I am a skeptic.

    I live in Florida, (land of old people - NOT) which is also a misconception.Most of my friends are actively engaged in social activities, fitness routines, special interests, education, volunteerism, and travel. I do know one or two couples who are contented with four rounds of golf per week, but that is rare. I do believe our generation is redefining retirement and I also believe that it has not gone unnoticed.

    Bob, say hello to Tamara and Mike for us. We will be in CA this June, but will just miss them.

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    1. I will. We are having a splendid, very active time together.

      Arizona has the same image issue as Florida. The strong majority of influx is from younger people, associated with the tech industry. Arizona is not the Sun City of old anymore.As the 6th largest city in the country, Phoenix is anything but laid back.

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  9. A friend in her late seventies that I visited in the fall told me her middle-aged daughters had complained that her very active lifestyle was not appropriate for a person her age. I suggested she tell them that this is how most people her age behave and that they should get used to it! -Jean

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    1. "Age appropriate" is a not too subtle form of ageism. Good for you Jean in suggesting that the younger folks be instructed in the way things really are.

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  10. Our 46 year old daughter tells us that we are role models for what she hopes for in retirement. That's a compliment! Right now I am with a friend in Churchill, Manitoba, getting ready to watch the Northern Lights. Why not have a bucket list and check off the items?

    We live in a retirement community in the winter and in a regular neighborhood in the summer. We think we have the best of both worlds.

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    1. The flipside of the above comment!

      Living as you do in a retirement setting in the winter and an age-mixed neighborhood in the summer is an excellent way to help influence others. I hadn't considered that blended form of retirement lifestyle but you have ptesented an interesting option.

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  11. I'm with ddavidson5647 - I get the impression that some of us retirees have a perception problem of our own. There's a very active seniors'/community center in my hometown. One of my cohort has been refusing to participate in activities there not wanting to be a part of that "senior" community. I encourage her that we will define our senior years. Our senior years need not be taken up with floor curling, card playing, and preparing the funeral lunches. We can do yoga, walk the labyrinth, explore alternative healing practices, etc. It's a new generation of seniors.

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    1. I encourage you to encourage your friend to take part in those things that interest her. To "protest" events without participating is only cheating her out of potentially positive activities.

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  12. My parents went straight to cancer, so there is no telling what they might have done in retirement.

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    1. That is sad, but a stark reminder that we have no promises of longevity Today is the only day we are sure of.

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  13. I come at this comment from a somewhat different, but I think related, perspective. My wife and I still seem to be a bit too newly-retired to have gotten set in any kind of active routine or lifestyle, though our goal is certainly to do that, especially with spring and summer coming. As a result, it might be hard for people we know to have any ideas about us.

    However, I have had recent comments before and after I retired related to people's perception of me. I readily admit that I am very fortunate to have been able to pursue my retirement dreams as early as I did, at age 55. These comments seemed to be directly related to my age. A number of people have said, "you're too young to retire!!" I have never known how to take that. Do they mean I look too young to be eligible to retire (I hope that's the case)? Or do they mean I should not be retiring at 55 when I was perfectly capable of continuing to be productive in the workforce? Do they think retirement equates to lazy and sedentary, the stereotype you allude to?

    I have also wondered what our kids think of us being retired. Again, being a fortunate young retiree, it seems that most of their friends' parents are still working despite being about my age. I know they're happy for us, but do they think we're old now? Do they think we're too young for retirement, like others seem to think? Do they think we're lazy when other parents are still working? So many questions. One of the great joys of having adult kids is the ability to have adult conversations with them so, as others have said, maybe we'll just have to ask them!

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    1. I feel your pain, as one of the former occupants of the White House noted. I retired at 52. Betty followed me out the door at 47.

      For several years we didn't really talk about our retirement with others because we weren't sure it would last, and we had gotten there through the ultimate failure of my business.

      It was only 4 or 5 years later, when we were sure things would work out, that we admitted to a very young retirement.

      Most people probably assumed we had amassed a small fortune...which was absolutely not the case. We had decided to dedicate outselves to each other and live within the moderate means we had available.


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  14. I used to say that I would never retire. I pictured myself continuing to work into my eighties, although probably on a part-time basis. One reason was that I really liked my career, but another reason was that I held that negative stereotype of retirement that you described: overweight, decrepit, glued to an armchair in front of the TV, it involved in society.

    In fact, I ended up retiring early, at age 60. What changed? Well, I met my second husband, who retired at age 56, and who is a model of happy, engaged retirement. Also, I entered an unsatisfying phase of my career and it was having a negative impact on my health. I began to realize that I no longer wanted to work so hard, and that I wanted to have time to focus on doing some of the things I had always wanted to to do but kept deferring for lack of time. I began reading retirement blogs such as yours, Bob, and gradually realized that retirement didn’t have to mean turning into a couch potato!

    Jude

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