"What, Me Retire?" New York, Dec 2, 2002
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New York, NY, December 2, 2002 - When are the Baby Boomers going to grow up and act their age - that is, the age their parents acted when they were the same age that the aging Boomers are now? According to recent research conducted by the consulting group The Second Half, the answer may be, "Never." In the Fall of 2002, The Second Half fielded an online study among people 45+ to find out, among other things, what their attitudes and expectations are toward that phase of life that is still being called retirement. What comes through loud and clear is that aging Boomers (45 to 56 years of age) do not view the retirement phase of life in the same way as their older brothers and sisters, members of The Silent Generation (57 to 74 years of age), do. In fact, nearly all the subjects say that their retirements are or will be "very different from that of my parents and their generation."
None of the Boomers in the study had retired from their primary careers yet, but when asked to anticipate what it would mean to retire, and how they would spend their time, it was clear that Boomers were looking forward to this next phase of their lives with an optimism and energy that people only a few years older, but of a different generation and mindset, do not quite share. We know The Silent Generation has moved on from thinking of retirement as a "time to sit on the porch in my rocking chair" phase of life, and has been fashioning an active, engaged post-retirement lifestyle. But the Boomers are bringing a youthful attitude to this time of life that hasn't been seen before. They imagine retirement (a bad word since it doesn't describe what they envision at all) as "a work in progress," a self-fulfillment time," as "freedom," even as, "my second childhood." This contrasts with the words people in their late 50s and 60s (The Silents) use to describe this time: "paid my dues time," "semi-retired," "the golden years."
It seems the expansive way the older Boomers have always viewed the world will continue for as long as they do. They see their later years, their "second middle age," (forget old) as a time to explore, try new things, travel, go back to school, start a new business, write a book (or two), take up "xtreme" sports like snowboarding and white water rafting, or go trekking in Nepal. They admit no limitations - just because they are older, they do not have to slow down. Boomers will not give themselves permission to do less just because they are aging.
Getting in the way of this fantasy of retirement is the hard reality of current economic conditions. Many of the people in the study were worried that they wouldn't have enough money to retire on, and were planning to postpone retirement plans by 2 years, 10 years, even indefinitely. Interestingly, even though the Boomers are younger and would seemingly have more time in which to save for retirement, twice as many of them agreed strongly with the statement, "Recent market fluctuations have made me concerned about my financial security," as the "Silents." This attitude may stem, in part, from the fact that Boomers are less likely to have a traditional- defined benefit - pension plan than members of the Silent Generation as more and more companies are opting for defined contribution (401k type) plans. The next few years will reveal whether Boomers, four million of whom will turn 50 each year until 2015, have the same propensity for early retirement (before age 65) as the Silents have had.
The economy is the big unknown, and is the one thing that will hinder even the most optimistic Boomers from living out their fantasies of continuing to have it all, but with more time to enjoy it. The economy notwithstanding, there are vast implications of the new energy and attitude that Boomers will bring to this next phase of their lives for marketers, beyond the financial services providers, healthcare providers and tour operators who already target (only sometimes successfully) the 50+ market. There are untapped opportunities in several areas that may be less obvious:
- adult education, at traditional "brick and mortar" institutions or alternative settings
- housing issues that are only beginning to be addressed
- the small business market, which has enormous potential, since so many people contemplating retirement from their primary careers plan to launch their own businesses, often from their homes
- consumer electronics, especially those associated with leisure activities, vacations, or new ventures
Marsha Cohen, The Second Half, 212-535-7684, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ann Middleman, The Second Half, 516-334-3434, email@example.com
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