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Man and woman holding hands riding bicycles. Photograph by Getty Images

Are Baby Boomers too optimistic about retirement?

Aug 07, 2015

If you’re a Baby Boomer within sight of age 65, you’re probably thinking about your next move—and it may well be a career change instead of a traditional kick-back-and-relax retirement. Among 1,005 Boomers who haven’t yet left their full-time careers, 60% expect to keep working at least part-time after they “retire,” says a study from Bankers Life’s Center for a Secure Retirement.

The job market is ready for them. Of the 2,293 Boomers in the study who have already retired but have found other work, 80% reported it was “easy” to find the jobs they have now.

“As the next wave of Boomers retires, the competition is likely to intensify,” says Bankers Life president Scott Goldberg. "But, with part-time and freelance roles becoming more prevalent in the overall job market, there is good evidence to suggest that future retirees will have an even greater number of positions to consider, even if the competition for those roles gets more intense.”

Great, but anyone contemplating what lies ahead might want to consider two of the study’s less cheerful findings. First, it seems that most people overestimate their ability to choose when they retire. Nearly seven in ten (69%) of middle-income retirees would have liked to have stayed longer in their old careers, but had to leave earlier than they planned for “reasons beyond their control,” the report says—most commonly because of health problems (39%), being laid off (19%), or to care for a loved one (9%).

Second, Boomers’ expectations about what they’ll be able to earn in their post-retirement careers seem overly optimistic. Only about one in five (21%) of the people in the survey who are still working in their primary careers say they’d be “willing to take a pay cut” when they move on to another job in retirement. That doesn’t jibe with the experience of current retirees who are working, almost three-quarters (72%) of whom report earning less on an hourly basis now than they did in their old roles. More than half (53%) say they make “much less.”

That doesn’t mean they’re unhappy. About 80% of the people who retired and then found new jobs say they like their current careers better than their old ones. They also report less stress and “better relationships” than the Boomers surveyed who haven’t retired yet.

Even so, the study’s message is clear. Given your druthers, you might stay in your pre-retirement career until you’re 65, 70, or beyond, and then move on to something that pays equally well. But, just in case that doesn’t work out, it’s smart to have a Plan B.

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