The rapid evolution of retirement in America shows no signs of slowing. The World War II generation (or The Greatest Generation) often lived in the same house until they either died or were moved to a nursing home, but this is now far less common. Baby boomers have continued to forge new ground and explore new lifestyles in this period of their lives, as technological and medical advancements have provided them with many more alternatives in how and where they can spend their time.
How Boomers are Different
A large percentage of the 78 million Americans who are classified as baby boomers are going to live anywhere from 10 to 25 years longer than their parents did. Those who reach retirement age now are often physically healthy enough to run marathons, build houses and start new businesses. For these reasons, retirement communities have become less attractive for many boomers who are seeking diversified lifestyles and new challenges. Many of them are instead beginning to migrate to small towns that can offer things not commonly found in retirement communities, such as different types of employment opportunities and low-key living among family and friends. Other boomers are choosing to move back into urban areas to take advantage of amenities such as public transportation and cultural diversity. A few others are moving in with their grown children, either by choice or by financial necessity.
A study done by the AARP showed that a large percentage of boomers indicated that they would like to move when they retire. This trend was one of the major factors behind the housing boom of the previous decade. And while some boomers have been able to accumulate substantial home equity that they can use to purchase smaller, cheaper homes in less urban areas for cash, many others find themselves completely tapped out or underwater on their home loans. Baby boomers are also far less prepared for retirement than their parents, who learned to save money and avoid debt after living through a war and a depression.
A recent TD Ameritrade survey shows that the average baby boomer is about $500,000 short of what they will need to be able to retire comfortably, and this generation will not be able to rely on the security of guaranteed pensions and Social Security that their parents enjoyed. The subprime meltdown of 2008 combined with the stock market crash that followed has left many boomers scrambling to piece together an adequate nest egg, and many of them have subsequently turned to the equity in their homes as a solution. And while real estate prices are finally starting to rise again, those who cannot substantially profit from selling their current home in order to find a cheaper one will likely have to make some major adjustments in their lifestyles for the near future.
Many boomers who find themselves short on funds as they approach retirement have been forced to continue working for at least a few more years. This often creates a dilemma for employers who do not relish the prospect of having to pay higher wages to their older workers for an extended period. At the same time, employers do not want to see their most experienced employees leave to form either their own companies or to work for the competition. However, many boomers with intentions to keep working are not planning on doing so at their current jobs or in their current fields. Many boomers are instead choosing to forge new careers in fields that have always interested them or to work for causes that they believe in.
Technology is changing our lives and society in many ways, and a large percentage of boomers have joined the digital age as a means of staying in touch with family and conducting business from the comfort of home. A Pew study released in 2012 indicates that over half of those aged 65 plus use the Internet, with nearly three-quarters of those using it on a daily basis. About a third of those in this age group also belong to a social networking site, such as Facebook, and this number is growing rapidly. Nearly 70% of respondents to the poll also owned a mobile phone or handheld device, which is up 13% from those who answered "yes" to this question in the May 2010 survey.
The Bottom Line
Technology and longevity have given the baby boomer generation choices that did not exist previously. Subsequent generations will also face unique challenges and opportunities as our world becomes increasingly mobile. The boomers will be the first generation to truly blaze the trail through the landscape of retirement in the 21st century.