Working Retireds Give New Meaning to Retirement

April 3, 2006 ( - A MetLife study of retirement aged workers reveals retirement is no longer defined by a specific date, but rather a desired state of being.

MetLife Mature Market Institute study, Living Longer, Working Longer: The Changing Landscape of the Aging Workforce, conducted by David DeLong & Associates, Inc. and Zogby International, found that 78% of respondents age 55-59 are working or looking for work, as are 60% of 60-65 year-olds and 37% of 66-70 year-olds. According to a news release on the study, across all three age groups, roughly 15% of workers have actually accepted retirement benefits from a previous employer, and then chose to return to work or are seeking work.

Eleven percent of 55-59 year-olds, 16% of 60-65 year-olds and 19% of 66-70 year-olds made up the “working retired.” Among workers age 55-59, 72% cited “need income to live on” as a primary reason for working. Economic incentives were also the number one motive cited by 60-65 year-olds (60%), while 72% of the 66-70 year old cited the desire to “stay active and engaged” as a primary reason to work. Economic reasons were not even in the top three for the older retirees, the release said.

The study showed that retirement is no longer defined by an age or work status, but is more a state of being. When asked what retirement means, respondents indicated:

  • “freedom from the demands of work” (26%),
  • “more control over one’s personal time” (24%),
  • “limited financial concerns” (21%), and
  • “the ability to pursue other opportunities” (12%).

The study indicated that the working retired take retirement benefits, not for income, but for other reasons. Twenty percent of age 60-65 respondents, 12% of those 55-59, and 7% of the 66-70 group said they took retirement benefits because they “wanted to try something new and different.” “Becoming self-employed or starting a business” was another common reason for taking retirement benefits – cited by 19% of 66-70 year-olds, 7% of 60-65 year-olds and 8% of 55-59 year-olds.

Overall, around 28% of respondents age 55-59 listed themselves as “self-employed or business owner,” as did 36% of 60-65 year-olds and 42% of 66-70 year-olds.

On the other hand, 18% of Baby Boom workers age 55-59 report that they expect to have no access to retirement benefits when they stop working and are likely to feel compelled to work well past traditional retirement age. About 14% of workers age 60-65 and 10% of workers age 66-70 expect to receive nothing but Social Security when they finally stop working.

Other key findings of the study include:

  • When asked about unsuccessful job searches, older workers most frequently gave reasons suggesting or implying “age bias.” Employees age 55-59 blamed “age bias” 39% of the time, while 60-65 year-olds and 66-70 year-olds identified bias as a barrier 42% and 60% of the time, respectively.
  • Of those still in the workplace, about 76% of 55-59 year-olds work more than 35 hours a week, and only 39% of 66-70 year-olds work that much. Nearly four in 10 (39%) of those age 66-70 are working fewer than 20 hours a week. Among those seeking work in this age group, 56% wanted less than 20 hours per week.
  • Some older workers talked of their lives as taking on a “portfolio quality” – a mix of part-time work for pay, volunteer work, and travel, along with more time for hobbies and family. Supporting this portfolio metaphor, 25% of survey respondents across all age groups currently earn income from more than one job. About 20% of those working have two jobs, and another 4% have three jobs.
  • Only 15% of 66-70 year-olds moved to warmer climates once they started receiving retirement benefits, while 21% of 60-65 year-olds and 28% of 55-59 year-olds chose to relocate.
  • Approximately half of all respondents surveyed characterize their health as excellent or very good – 49% of 66-70 year-olds, 52% of 60-65 year-olds and 54% of 55-59 year-olds.

The survey polled 2,719 respondents between the ages of 55-70. MetLife Mature Market Institute studies can be accessed here .