Boomers Plan to Delay Retirement. Then Life Intrudes

Photograph by John Lund/Drew Kelly

Compare the headlines on these two press releases, which hit reporters’ e-mail boxes an hour and a half apart this morning:

First, from Gallup:
Three in Four U.S. Workers Plan to Work Past Retirement Age

Then, from MetLife:
Oldest Boomers Are Retiring at a Quick Rate

The Gallup survey says what Americans intend to do. The MetLife study reveals what they actually do when life intrudes. If you’re one of those aging boomers who’s counting on extra years of work to save your nest egg, keep in mind that relatively few people end up doing it.

The Gallup survey found that 40 percent of Americans said that when they reach retirement age they will work by choice, and another 35 percent say they will work by necessity.

MetLife said that the oldest boomers—those born in 1946 and now turning 67—”aren’t necessarily ‘working ’til they drop,’ as was predicted.” Fifty-two percent are fully retired. Fourteen percent are retired but working part time or seasonally. Five percent are on disability, 2 percent are self-employed, 2 percent are employed part time, and 1 percent are looking for work. That leaves just 21 percent employed full time.

It’s not as if those who drop out or cut back are all in great financial shape. Many financial advisers tell retirees to delay taking Social Security benefits a few years so the checks they eventually get will be bigger. But 43 percent of those surveyed by MetLife began collecting Social Security earlier than they had planned. Scarily, 8 percent owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

For some people, saying they plan to work extra years may reflect “an emotional state or a viewpoint or a feeling,” says John Migliaccio, director of research and gerontology at the MetLife Mature Market Institute. “They’re not feeling comfortable. Things are a little bit unsettled. They say, ‘Oh, my God, I have to work forever.’ But when it gets right down to it, they say, ‘Hey, I can do it,” and they go ahead and do it.”

( Adds final paragraph with quote from MetLife executive explaining the phenomenon. )
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