Baby Boomers Challenge Notion of Retirement

Think retirement still means long days at the golf course or leisurely strolls along the beach? Think again.

Baby boomers have reshaped what it means to grow older. Compared with their parents, boomers are healthier, better educated and living well into their 80s and beyond. The increasing lifespan has given boomers the chance to reinvent themselves and pursue new passions at any age.

Joseph Cofield, retired after 21 years in the Army, returned to the work force but in an entirely different field. Cofield, who is 48, now spends his day surrounded by energetic 12-year-olds in a classroom at the Bonita Springs Middle School in Bonita Springs, Fla.

Cofield "retired" to his second career under Troops to Teachers, a program designed for those leaving the military. Some 8,400 military men and women have signed on for it so far. But why would anyone choose to spend their days disciplining junior high students instead of lounging at the beach?

"I'm too young to just do nothing," said Cofield.

Similarly, Dr. Rogers McLane retired after 30 years as a family practitioner. But instead of changing careers like Cofield, he went back into medicine -- this time as a volunteer.

"I saw this as the perfect fit to be able to slow down and continue to do what I really enjoy doing -- taking care of patients," McLane said. At 59, he and 11 other retired doctors and nurses care for patients with little or no health insurance at a clinic in State College, Pa.

The clinic is part of the Volunteers in Medicine Program, which relies on volunteers to staff medical clinics around the country. "I've come up with a phrase that I've never been paid so well as a physician in that I'm paid by gratitude," McLane said.

McLane also has time to indulge his other passion: bicycling. It's part of an active retirement.

New Frontiers

John Gomperts, who runs Experience Corps, a national service organization for Americans over 55, said the boomers will change the notion of retirement. "I think it's unlikely that our retirement is going to look like our parents' retirement," Gomperts said. "We're likely to live much longer, and those extra years are going to mean all kinds of things."

Retirement will probably mean many things to many people. "It's unlikely to be pure leisure," he said. "It's unlikely to be pure anything. It's more likely to be a mix involving work, leisure and family."

Many boomers will keep working. A survey by The Associated Press found that most boomers expect to retire around age 63 -- but 66 percent of them expect to work for pay after retiring. Forty-three percent will do so because they want to stay busy, 27 percent say they'll keep working to make ends meet and another 19 percent will work so that they can afford "extras."

With the first baby boomers turning 60 this year, exactly how it will play out remains to be seen. "We're creating this new retirement as we go along," Gomperts said. "It's not invented yet, we're gonna all invent it together."

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