For many Americans, the concept of a traditional retirement, thirty or more years of leisure after a productive career is neither realistic nor appealing. Increased life expectancy, better health, and the desire to remain active and productive into their 70s, 80s, and even 90s, are prompting them to re-examine the concept of retirement.
For some, financial realities play the central role in the decision to continue working. Expectations for lower future investment returns are encouraging those of all economic levels to reconsider whether their nest eggs can support thirty or more years of withdrawals to cover retirement spending.
According to Wharton professor Olivia Mitchell, this trend toward working longer is actually a return to the realities of the early 1900s before the advent of Social Security and what we now consider the “old-fashioned” pension plans that pay monthly benefits for life. Back then, people worked for as long as they were physically able. “Sitting around and doing nothing was an alien concept,” says Mitchell. Now, due to factors including the shift away from those pension plans, concerns regarding the viability of Social Security and the realization that retirement can last decades, the historical trend toward retiring earlier began to reverse itself starting in the 1990s.
Choosing to Work Longer
However, to conclude that people are delaying retirement solely for economic reasons would be ignoring the influence of other important considerations. A survey of wealthy individuals conducted by Barclays Capital suggested that a majority of those who could otherwise afford to retire without financial worries are choosing to work for as long as they can. They view interesting work as a means to stay engaged, challenged and productive, and contribute to society.
The financial benefits of working longer should not be overlooked and cannot be overestimated. It is one of the most important factors for achieving retirement security because it impacts an individual’s finances in a number of ways.
- Savings on health care costs. Employer subsidized health insurance is one of the primary reasons many people stay in the workforce.
- Increased retirement benefits. For those eligible to receive a monthly pension annuity, additional years of service may increase the monthly lifetime benefit.
- Larger nest egg and fewer withdrawals. Employees who participate in 401(k) type plans can make additional tax-deferred contributions and allow their investments to grow for a longer period. Also, fewer years of withdrawals means your nest egg will last longer.
- Larger Social Security benefits. For each year you delay taking Social Security benefits beyond your full retirement age (and up to age 70); you will increase the benefit you receive by about 8%. It is nearly impossible to find a safe investment that yields such an outstanding return. These larger checks will improve your (and your spouse’s) retirement security, especially in old age when you may need it most.
For many, economic well-being is only part of the argument for working longer. Studies on healthy aging conducted by researchers at leading universities and think tanks support the notion that working later in life offers physical, psychological and emotional benefits to older people. The reasons are simple. First, interesting work requires that individuals utilize their social skills and cognitive abilities, which help them, retain them longer. Second, a person’s desire to work, contribute their talents and be appreciated allows them to maintain a sense of purpose. In other words, it is a great reason to get up in the morning.