Work? Once More with Meaning

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Studies on Redefining Retirement

Three-quarters of respondents in a 10-nation study of retirement said working "would be part of an ideal later life," said Sir John Bond, Group Chairman of HSBC Holdings, sponsor of the recent report titled The Future of Retirement in a World of Rising Life Expectations. "People are not simply expecting to work longer, now they want to mix work and leisure, learning and rest. It is critical that governments, regulators, corporations and financial institutions understand these emerging trends in behavior and attitude if we are to successfully tackle the pressing issues before us," Bond added.


"Baby boomers will invent not only a new stage of life between the middle years and true old age," said Marc Freedman, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Civic Ventures, "but a new stage of work." Although boomers may contribute greatly as volunteers, he emphasized in a press statement, a new survey of older adults in the United States suggests that "their most important contributions to society will likely be through work."

Freedman noted that half of the random sample of 1,000 adults ages 50 to 70 interviewed for the MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures New Face of Work Survey said they are interested in taking jobs now or in the future to help improve the quality of life in their communities. The percentage attracted to socially contributive employment jumped to 58% among survey participants ages 50-59, the leading-edge boomers. In addition, the study-conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International-found half of respondents ages 50-70 agreeing it is "important that work in retirement help the community in specific ways," and 60% of boomers, ages 50-59, affirming this belief. "Despite critiques suggesting baby boomers are self-centered and focused on material things, these findings expose a vein of commitment to service that stretches from now through the end of their lives," the study says.

Among the 53% of all respondents indicating they may work in their retirement years, 78% said they are interested in helping the poor, elders and others in need. Also, 56% wish to do work dealing with health issues, such as being employed in a hospital or with an organization fighting a particular disease, and 55% would like to teach or take another educational position. And 45% say they are interested in working in a youth program.

Generally, survey participants expressed hope for a better balance between work and life. Freedman observed, "Their disposition is a powerful signal that we need to be much better at opening up opportunities in the realm of good work-including education, healthcare and the social sector-if we are to fully capture the potential contributions of this experience-rich generation."

Freedman said that this altruistic streak among adults ages 50-70 will be especially welcome among those concerned about pending shortages of workers in service fields, such as health and education. For example, a 2002 report by the U.S. Bureau of Health Professions projects that the modest 6% shortage of registered nurses in 2000 will, if unaddressed, leap to 29% by 2020. Elementary and secondary schools, according to the National Teacher Recruitment Clearinghouse, face a silent crisis-a shortage of up to a quarter-million teachers during the next decade.


"Americans ages 50 to 70 are under no illusion that getting such a job would be easy," cautions the Ne\v Face of Work Survey report. Even though 39% felt it would be easy to find such jobs, only 12% thought it would be very easy, and 48% believed landing such jobs would be difficult or very difficult.

Of the survey respondents who said they wish to remain employed, 59% said they want to stay involved with other people, 57% said a job would give them a sense of purpose, 52% want the income, and 48% want to help improve the quality of life in their community through their continued employment. …