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Longevity transforms retirement

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Posted: 5 pm ET

If you have an hour to think about retirement planning in a new way, I urge you to take a look at gerontologist and aging expert Ken Dychtwald's video presentation, featured at the top of the American Society on Aging's website,

Dychtwald makes the point -- in a very thought-provoking and entertaining way -- that retirement for boomers and those who are younger won't be what it was for any previous generation for five key reasons.

Welcome to the longevity revolution. Age 65 was chosen as the ideal age for retirement by Americans, who modeled its Social Security program after the German program, created by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who died in 1890. It is a notion that has stuck, even as life expectancy has risen from 47.3 to about 85, according to Social Security. The extra years acquired since then "is a new uncharted and unlanguaged frontier," that upends conventional thinking, Dychtwald says. He points to astronaut John Glenn's trip into space at 77 as an example of the dramatic extension of useful life. Glenn was asked by reporters why he was going into space at his age. He answered, "Just because I'll be 77, doesn't mean I still don't have dreams."

Extra years change the way people look at life. Our children are marrying later. People are going to college in their 40s and 50s, expecting to have time for a full career after graduation. As Dychtwald says, with an extra decade or two, "There's time for second chances."

Financial mindshift isn't easy, but necessary. Old-fashioned, defined benefit pensions are gone. When Social Security was signed into law, there were nearly 42 workers supporting every one recipient. Now there are 2.9 workers per recipient -- and that number is declining. "I hope these entitlements remain in place, but man, oh, man there is going to be a lot of strain," Dychtwald says. The answer? Learn the art of saving, and recognize that mutual support groups among families and friends will be what bails many of us out of financial disaster.

Retirement doesn't mean quitting work. "I don't think you can have 25 years of nonwork," Dychtwald, who is 63, says. "Unless you are Bill Gates, you can't afford that." Instead, he believes, retirement will be synonymous with reinvention and downshifting. Most people will work part time, probably at something other than their previous career.

Making the transition from success to significance. The big question -- and challenge -- becomes: What can I do during this last stage of life that isn't self-indulgent? How can I contribute and live with purpose in my final years?

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1 Comment
Joe M
August 02, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Ken Dychtwald can work until he drops,then leave his money to someone else to spend. Me, I'll enjoy life in retirement!