Retirement is a major lifestyle transition for most people and many thrive on the independence and flexibility it affords. Others may sense a loss of purpose and structure that leaves them feeling adrift and unproductive. Each person’s physical health, financial and social circumstances should be considered when deciding whether to retire or remain in the work force.
Reasons to Retire
Retirement lets you be your own boss and to focus on you, said Ernie Zelinski, author of "The Joy of Being Retired" and other books on retirement. He stresses the quality of life retirement offers. For example, he points out, retirement allows you to live where you want; set your own priorities and schedules; spend more time on socializing with friends and family; travel and pursue existing hobbies or take up new ones. The additional time and flexibility retirement gives you also permits you to support friends or family members who could use your help; focus on health issues you may have been neglecting, such as exercising and eating healthy; take educational courses in subjects that interest you; be spontaneous in terms of lifestyle and routine--to reinvent your life.
Incentives to Keep Working
No work, no pay. Unless you have a consistently high-performing investment portfolio, you’ll be living on a fixed or uncertain income. There are some built-in penalties to drawing on your savings before you reach a certain age, according to "U.S. News & World Report" in a December 2009 article. “Retirees can begin taking penalty-free 401k withdrawals at age 55 and IRA withdrawals at age 59½ . . . but, ordinary income tax is due on the amount withdrawn.” The report also points out that people who opt to start receiving Social sScurity checks at age 62 reduce the total amount they’ll collect by up to 35 percent. If you have a pension, the earlier you retire, the less you‘ll get. Pensions are typically calculated by multiplying the number of years you’ve worked by a percentage of your salary. If your pay rises with seniority, the longer you work, the more you save, according to an article in the June 2007 issue of "Consumer Reports." Retiring before you have to may also force you to draw on Social Security and IRAs earlier than you otherwise would. Unless you’re old enough to be eligible for Medicare, you’ll lose your health insurance, and some insurance companies are reluctant to cover senior citizens, especially those who have pre-existing health conditions.
Retirement can actually be bad for your mental and physical health, according to a study of 12,189 retirees in the October 2007 issue of the "Journal of Occupational Health Psychology." The authors reported that "compared with full retirement, engaging in bridge [reduced] employment either in a career field or in a different field was associated with fewer major diseases and functional limitations . . . engaging in career bridge employment was associated with better mental health.” They attribute this finding to the fact that retirees are often less active and challenged than those who are in the work force.
The choice doesn't have to be as stark as whether to work or not. Many older people engage in volunteer work, which can range from contributing time and expertise to a local church or civic group to mentoring students, lobbying for a good cause or joining the Peace Corps. This can be a rewarding and useful but low-pressure way to stay busy and challenged, make social connections and help others. Alternatively, joining social groups, such as bridge clubs, church choirs, travel clubs or bowling leagues, or meeting others regularly to play golf or swim, helps you stay mentally, physically and emotionally active and happy.
Barbara Bryant has been writing professionally for 25 years. She has contributed to "The Military Engineer" and ASCE's "Civil Engineering" magazines as well as many other publications. Through newsletters and blogs, Bryant specializes in health and fitness topics, drawing on expertise from personal trainers and a naturopathic doctor.