Retire that notion of old; Younger Longer; Retirement determined by attitude, not age

Originally published by Canwest News Service on February 3rd, 2010. To view this page on, please click here.

It used to be a time for dentures and bingo. Now, it’s all about power yoga, spa resorts and dermal fillers. Welcome to the sunset years of the Baby Boomer set. They are heading into their 60s now, but they might as well be in their fabulous 40s.

Or, so the spin goes. Susan Eng at CARP, Canada’s association for the 50-plus, finds it all a bit tiresome. “I think we need to be respected for the exact age we’re at. We need to shift attitudes, not people’s ages.”

She’s referring to the continued ageism faced by many retirement-age workers. Though more youthful than ever, they have little in common with the Botoxed Boomers in the media glare that shape public perception. They are not helped by zippy catchphrases about 60 being the new 40.

It can be a hard age. You were about to retire, but were caught short by the recession, perhaps you’re caring for parents, helping out adult kids or still paying for a costly divorce. Now, you’re sitting on the wrong side of an interview desk facing a 20-something with a bachelor’s degree and a fistful of prejudices.

But times are a-changing. The lines that have neatly marked out the stages of our lives are blurring. The psychological significance of that pivotal phase in life when employers were supposed to send you home with a new watch is beginning to crumble.

Whether providing white-collar consulting to a previous employer, doing voluntary work in some far-flung location or filling in at a local convenience store, the Boomers are, in time-honoured tradition, shaking things up. The changes to workforce patterns will be lasting.

It all comes down to a number of things, says Doug Owram, author of Born at the Right Time: a History of the Baby-Boom Generation. For starters, mandatory retirement has now been abolished across most of the country. Workforce shortages resulting from the so-called baby bust of the mid-1960s to late-1970s are also keeping Boomers in work. Finally, many people just can’t afford to clock out.

Boomer bullish-ness is also playing a huge role. “The Boomers never focused on being old. A lot of people are phasing out, getting second careers that provide a sense of identity and purpose,” says Mr. Owram, currently deputy vice-chancellor of the University of British Columbia, Okanagan.

This shift of gears looks set to continue for another few years, creating uncertainty for employers, policy-makers and regional planners. Mr. Owram foresees trends moving in different directions, with people retiring, changing careers, reducing their hours or doing voluntary work. After around 10 years, the dust will settle.

It seems clear that, for subsequent generations of workers, there will be no magic shifts to leisuredom in their early 60s. Retirement will have become a much fuzzier concept. “Health, finances and social factors will all be more important than chronological age,” says Ms.

Eng. She thinks people will come to organize their lives more laterally, perhaps taking leisure time earlier and choosing to work later. “People have to look at a whole lifetime rather than parcelling it out in age segments. We’re challenging those boxes now,” she says.