Hanging In

I retired early – at age 58. I am not making any apologies for my decision.

Hindsight is 20/20 I guess. I probably could have worked longer. But at the time my mental health was none too good and I had a history of physical problems to contend with.

The reason I bring this up is because I ┬árecently read a couple of articles about not retiring early – in fact not retiring at all. These are US articles but I imagine the Canadian stats wouldn’t be grossly different.

It seems that 64% of US Boomers, 79% of Gen Xers and 84% of Millennials expect to keep working past 65 and into their 70s. The actual number who do this right now is 17% in the US. Something wrong with this picture?

The second article was a Boston College study that ranked over 950 professions in terms of their potential for post 65 endeavour. At the top were human resource workers and librarians. At the bottom (not surprisingly) were professional dancers. I guess Fred Astaire was an anomaly.

Rankings were based on the mental and physical capacity to do the job, so roofers and bulldozer operators probably won’t be working at the same job post 65. Neither will airline pilots. In general blue collar jobs are tougher to do in old age.

My own profession (chemist) rated in the 35th percentile which isn’t bad for hanging in. Anyone in the top 50% has a shot at least – all things considered equal.

There’s more to the story though than just physical and mental capability:

  • Some people save well enough either through pension plans, RRSPs, and/or basic investing so they achieve financial independence. At this point they may not see the need to keep on working for the man. Some extremists manage to do this in their 40s, let alone 60s.
  • Illness – either mental or physical – may be a factor regardless of what your job is.
  • Your employer may find creative ways to get rid of you. Not many Unilever R&D managers survived past their 60th birthday. Golden handshakes are still around in spite of anti-age discrimination laws.
  • Technology is taking away a lot of semi skilled blue collar and white collar jobs. Those that remain might as well employ younger and cheaper workers.

Let’s be honest – the reason a lot of folks think they’ll just keep working past normal retirement age is because they haven’t prepared for retirement – either financially or emotionally. Chances are slim that they’ll continue on as (say) a professional scientist or IT guy into their 70s. Maybe if they are self employed – but how many are? I bet a lot of Boomers will have to adjust their expectations.

I’m beginning to see the evidence in my little town – where more and more graybeards and older ladies are manning the checkouts at Walmart or standing behind the counter at McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s. If they are doing this because they just love to get up at 6:30 AM and do the Walmart shuffle, or work the midnight shift at Tim’s more power to them.

Forgive me if I don’t see it as a desirable way of life in my dotage.

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