Retirement no Longer Equals Old Age
by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.
A funny thing happened back in the late 1940's. Lots of young women got pregnant all at once. Some point to over 13 millioni service men coming home to their lonely girlfriends. Guess what happened a few years later.
Births went from 2.5 million in 1940 to 3.5 million in 1950.
As little brothers and sisters were born, annual births hit 4 million in 1954, and stayed above 4 million until 1965 when births finally dropped back to 3.7 million. Thus were created the "Boomers".
Fast forward to today. As they approach their midsixties, those born in the 1950's are now stepping away from full-time paid employment, presenting a major opportunity.
The Boomers age group is very unlike previous generations.
Because of better healthcare, and the existence of Medicare, the average 50 year old today will live six years longer now than they would have in 1950.ii And they are much better educated.
In 1950, only one in four of all U.S. citizens over 25 had a high school diploma, and only one in twenty had a college degree.iii Today, 63 years later, in the same age group, more than half of these youngsters have a high school diploma, and one in three have at least one college degree.iv Many of these will continue their education through their career. What a outstanding success story for our country!
Among those hitting 65 this year, around one in ten already have a master's, professional, or doctorate degree, one in ten already have a college degree, one in four already have some college and one third already have a high school diploma.v Their younger brothers and sisters will arrive even more educated and experienced.
If you graduate from high school, you are likely to live seven years longer than someone who doesn't, and if you get a college degree you are likely to get an additional two years of life beyond the high school graduates.vi,vii These well educated no-longer-full-time employed will be around for quite a while.
Loneliness s is a health hazard. People with active social connections add even more years. One study compared the death rates of older altruistic volunteers to same aged non-volunteers and found that the volunteers lived appreciably longer - on top of the gains realized from education! viii
Every single day in 2012 we had somewhere around 10,000 of these well educated Boomers hit their sixty-fifth birthday, and approach a new stage of life.ix These people are an incredible resource, because retirement no longer equals old age.
At the same time, we have a host of social problems. In 2009, 41 percent of all babies born in the United States were born to unwed mothersx - resulting in a large percent of children with no male role models. Nearly 40% of all fourth graders in this country cannot read at grade level, and this number rises to 60% for children coming from poor families. xi I could go on and on with statistics like this. Our communities are crying out for seasoned leadership in efforts ranging from public safety to environmental protection.
Contributing to solving these problems and many others can be a source of joy, inspiration, and longer life for our newly arriving seasoned reinforcements.
Back in the 1940's, talented mature leaders were recruited to the war effort, and accepted a dollar a year in salary while holding very high positions in the White House and elsewhere. Their children can now do the same thing if room is made for them, and leadership will think big enough.
As the credentials of the volunteer pool has improved, the organizations which use volunteers may need to rethink the assignments they offer. I kept hearing of highly trained people becoming volunteers and asked to be greeters, or drivers, when their skills could have been much better used elsewhere.
A number of national resources exist to help both retirees and local efforts through this transition. The Senior Corps has a large library of resources on how to recruit, retain, and maximize the contribution of our newly arrived talent pool. You can find them at www.Nationalservice.gov. Civic Ventures (www.civicventures.org) has books and other materials to help both local governments and other organizations create meaningful roles. Another good resource is a book called The Encore Careers handbook, by Marci Alboher.
You can help by introducing loved ones who are underutilized and bored to organizations who can, and will, fully use their talent. You will be building your own positive future at the same time.