Understanding Why Some Pass on 'Encore Careers'

Aging Today, January/February 2009 | Go to article overview

Understanding Why Some Pass on 'Encore Careers'


"Unexpectedly large numbers of boomers are looking for purpose-driven jobs that provide them with both means and meaning," said Marc Freedman, president and CEO of Civic Ventures, on the 2008 release of the organization's Encore Career Survey of 3,500 people in the United States between ages 40 and 70.

Freedman, author of Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life (Public Affairs, 2007), continued, "As this research shows, they are applying their skills and passions to the very public interest fields that need them most."

The survey, conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and sponsored by MetLife Foundation, finds that a majority of those interviewed (54%) desire to use their skills and experience to help others. Of those currently in encore careers, 84% reported a high level of satisfaction, and 94% said they saw positive results from their work and believed they are making a difference.

For the survey report, Civic Ventures invited several experts to review and comment on the findings. One of those commentaries follows with the permission of Civic Ventures and the writer. Phyllis Moen is the McKnight Presidential Chair in Sociology at the University of Minnesota and coauthor of The Career Mystique: Cracks in the American Dream (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2004).

For copies of the Encore Career Survey, visit www.civicventures.org/surveys.cfm.

What does the MetLife Foundation-Civic Ventures Encore Career Survey tell us about the differences between those who are interested in encore careers and those who are not?

I'm going to call those interested in encore careers "potentials" and those not interested "traditionals" or those in need of a traditional retirement of rest and recreation. The Encore Career Survey separates people into these two categories based, in part, on whether they see retirement as a "second chapter" (potentials) or as a "time to take it easy" (traditionals) and whether they plan to work following retirement from their "main" jobs.

Of the respondents who report themselves as already retired, nine out of 10 (92%) traditionals plan not to go back to work, compared to only one in three (34%) potentials who say they will not return to work. Of those who are still in their "main" jobs, 75% of the potentials plan to work full time at another job (after retirement from their current one), compared to only 23% of the traditionals. Why are their plans and expectations so markedly different?

ANSWERS IN DIFFERENCES

For answers, I've looked at differences in:

Health status: Health problems could make the traditional retirement particularly attractive for traditionals. Almost one in four (24%) of them describe their overall health (including mental health) as "just fair" or "poor," compared to only half as many (12%) of the potentials. By contrast, 40% of potentials judge their health to be "excellent," compared to only 28% of traditionals.

Age: Age is also a barometer of chronic health difficulties. More than one in four (26%) of the traditionals are in the oldest (63-70) age group, compared to only 15% of the potentials. Since potentials are typically younger, they are presumably less apt to be in poor health or burned out by their main jobs: 35% are ages 44 to 50 compared to 29% of the traditionals, and 31% of potentials are in their early 50s, compared to 23% of traditionals. Note also that 60% of those who are already in encore careers are under age 57.

Attitudes about planning and the future: Sociologist John Clausen described people who exhibit a great deal of forward thinking and preparation (planful competence) as being better prepared for later life exigencies.

Evidently, the potentials are far more planfiilly competent than the traditionals. For example, not-yet-retired potentials plan to retire both younger (under age 60) and older (age 70 or older) than notyet-retired traditionals. …

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