Work: The New Face of Retirement

The aging of the global population is changing the face of retirement. The combination of increased longevity, distressed pension funds and economic hard times is causing people to remain in the workforce longer than ever and forcing governments to raise retirement ages around the world. By 2050, nearly one third of those living in developed countries will be age 60 or older, according to the United Nations, up sharply from less than 12% in 1950.

Yet this is only part of the story. In the United States, many members of the baby boom generation want to work past the traditional retirement age of 65 for the personal fulfillment that employment brings. Such views are replacing the notion of retirement as extended leisure that became popular in the last century, thanks to the advent of Social Security and private defined benefit pension plans that are now being phased out of the workplace.

In this special report, we take a detailed look at retirement in the 21st century from a global perspective. One article explores the reasons why people are working longer than their parents did and viewing the later decades of life as more than an endless weekend. Another article describes the crisis of public and private pension plans and the painful attempts to keep them solvent. In a third article, we examine the role of older workers in the workplace and the myths that make some employers wary of hiring them. Finally, we offer advice on how to prepare financially and vocationally for life in the later decades.

An End to the ‘Golden Years’: Increasing Longevity Changes the Work-leisure Equation

People are working longer and retirement ages are rising everywhere as aging populations, broken nest eggs and distressed pension funds make staying in the workforce a growing necessity. The baby boomers’ desire to remain active and engaged further blurs the distinction between work and retirement — a sharp reversal from attitudes that held sway during much of the 20th century, when retirement was seen as the ticket to an endless weekend.

Broken Promises: Can the World’s Stressed-out Pension Plans Be Rescued?

From Chicago to the Champs-Elysees, distressed retirement plans are coming under fire as they struggle to keep pace with projected payouts. Responses range from raising national retirement ages to whacking corporate profits to meet funding requirements. With state and local plans facing the widest gaps, some policy makers are taking increasingly risky steps to keep the funds solvent. According to some experts, resolving these pension-plan woes will take years of hard work.

The ‘Silver Tsunami’: Why Older Workers Offer Better Value Than Younger Ones

The world’s workforce has grown grayer despite predicted labor shortages as the baby boomers start to retire. While older workers can be skilled members of the workplace, many employers are reluctant to hire them because of myths about their cost and productivity. Other employers, however, recognize the value of older workers, suggesting that attitudes toward them are gradually changing.

The Big Financial Stretch: Preparing for Those Later Decades

Baby boomers want to keep working to remain useful and active but are woefully unprepared for their later decades. Studies show that most workers in the United States and other countries have given little thought to long-term financial planning, even though many are at risk of running out of money during retirement. Nor have they given much thought to the type of work they want to do in "encore careers" designed to help them remain  engaged with society and mentally and emotionally fit.

Knowledge@Wharton Partners

    Sign up for the weekly Knowledge@Wharton e-mail newsletter, offering business leaders cutting-edge research and ideas from Wharton faculty and other experts.