July 11th, 2014

New Study Shows More People Working Through Retirement

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Traditionally, retirement is viewed as a time of leisure, rest and relaxation. After working for 30 or 40 years, retirees expect to take a load off and do things that they enjoy. Now, though, more and more people are choosing to continue working after retirement. A new study by Merrill Lynch found that 47% of retired respondents either had, were currently or planned to work while retired, and 72% of pre-retirement respondents would like to work after retirement.

Why Is This Happening?

Is this an ominous reflection of the dire economic state that retirees increasingly find themselves in, or is it simply a shift in our cultural understanding of what aging and retirement mean?

On the one hand, 8 in 10 retired respondents reported that they worked primarily because they want to, not because they have to. This points to a shift in our views of retirement. Most retired respondents sought employment to remain social and active, give back to the community or continue their professional development. In other words, working became less about needing money and more about continuing to grow as a person. Whereas the traditional leisure model assumes that retirement is a time for winding down, working retirees today see it as an opportunity to engage with the world in new ways.

On the other hand, it is interesting to note that even among retirees who report that they don’t need to work and that money is not their primary motivation, less than half of them reported that they felt financially prepared for retirement. Even among the 33% of working retirees who primarily want to give back to the community, only around 25% of them are working as volunteers. This seems to imply that economic concerns could still be playing a role.

Regardless of the reasons, it is becoming less and less common for the retired to stay out of the workforce. Whether they’re volunteering with local non-profits or launching their own businesses, retirees are no longer standing at the sidelines.

Key Takeaways

People are working into their retirement, but work after retirement looks a little different. Working retirees overwhelmingly reported that work after retirement was more fun, flexible and fulfilling.

Saving is still important. Retirement funds allow working retirees to exercise more agency in their employment choices (and they allow non-working retirees to not work at all). The better funded your retirement is at the onset, the more freedom you’ll have to accept exciting positions that don’t pay as much or hold out for better offers and opportunities. Saving could also be the key to living a life of pure leisure in retirement, if you so desire.

Working retirees who were the most satisfied with their retirement were those who were well prepared. Many made a point to spend 2-5 years prior to retirement actively networking and developing new skills related to interests they would like to pursue in retirement. Some took a brief “intermission” from work to relax before pursuing a retirement career, but still made a point to maintain their professional and technological skills. Most remained open-minded about trying new things and prioritized finding work they were passionate about over making a higher salary.

Bottom Line

The landscape of retirement is changing. Many think that most people have smoldering passions that are stifled by the day-to-day drudgery of work. For them, retirement is seen as a time to finally stoke the flames and explore interests unrelated to the working world. While it may seem like working through retirement is a move away from this way of thinking, some working retired are actually using the increased flexibility afforded by their retirement savings to pursue those dormant passions within the workforce.

What does your ideal retirement look like? Do you plan on focusing your time and energy on a new hobby, or will you join the growing ranks who return to the workforce? Both options offer the opportunity to develop new skills and engage with the world in different ways, but the latter allows you to supplement your retirement income at the same time. Whatever your goals are, make sure to plan ahead and take proactive steps to build a retirement that you will enjoy.

Disclaimer: All information posted to this site was accurate at the time of its initial publication. Efforts have been made to keep the content up to date and accurate. However, Credit Karma does not make any guarantees about the accuracy or completeness of the information provided. For complete details of any products mentioned, visit bank or issuer website.


has been a Member Support Specialist at Credit Karma since December 2013. She can usually be found riding bikes around town late at night, communing with animals and eating sweets.

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  1. I see myself travelling the world on my retirement. Exploring places I’ve never been and simply enjoy life. I’ve never been to Paris, so that will definitely be on the top my bucket list. But who knows, I might change my mind and still join the workforce. Maybe it’ll be fun too! No one can really tell.

    auto insurance philadelphia pa at 8:56 pm on July 13, 2014

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