adult casual chef webNot so long ago, retirement was a period in life that most Americans could count on and look forward to. After working for 30, 40 or 50 years, both men and women eagerly anticipated receiving a pension, having a clear calendar, avoiding the morning rush, and hitting the early bird specials. Retirement was supposed to be a time of rest and relaxation, slowing down and taking life easy.

That’s not necessarily an accurate picture anymore. This scenario has changed dramatically in the last 20 to 30 years. For many people, changes in the economy have resulted in the need to keep working past 62, 65, even 70.

There are various reasons: Not as many companies offer pension plans as in the past. The 2008 financial crisis caused most people’s net worth to dive along with the stock market and housing prices. And many Americans do not plan for retirement early enough, or even at all.

Life expectancy is a huge factor in the changes to the face of retirement. In 1985, men were expected to live 14 years past retirement age (65) and women were expected to live until 84—19 years after retirement. Today, men’s life expectancy is 91 and women’s is 94.

While all these factors influence the age at which men leave the workforce, there are even more trends affecting women’s lives. Women make up the majority of primary caregivers for aging relatives. Many women are forced to take early retirement (with less than full retirement benefits) to take care of disabled parents or spouses. The rising number of single parent families is also responsible for women leaving the workplace to care for grandchildren.

In addition to these demographic changes, people are staying in better health and living life more fully into later years. After decades of working outside the home, many people simply get bored staying at home. Studies on the effect of retirement on health have shown mixed and complicated results, but there is no question that maintaining an active lifestyle has positive effects on both physical and mental health.

Lifestyles over 50 talked with Angie, a recent retiree from Emmaus, PA. Angie stopped working after more than 25 years as an administrative assistant in a doctor’s office. Although she was at the right age to retire, Angie had not done a lot of planning for retirement when she had to leave the workforce abruptly because of her husband’s health. He had severe back pain and surgery was a strong possibility; but when his condition improved and became more manageable, Angie’s role as a stay-at-home caregiver was no longer necessary. “At the beginning,” she says, “there was a real need to be home. But physical therapy has helped and now he doesn’t need me at home all the time.”

Less than two years after leaving the work-force, Angie is now more than ready to go back to work. Between home projects, knitting, volunteering at her church and keeping her grandchildren occasionally, Angie stays busy. But it isn’t enough. “There’s nothing I have to do on a daily basis,” she says.

So, she updated her resume and began looking for a job. She applied primarily for jobs in retail, working 16 to 20 hours per week. She wanted a job she would not have to “take home at night”. The job search wasn’t easy, and she was told that she was either under- or over-qualified for every position she applied for. Finally, she saw an opening for a substitute cafeteria worker in the East Penn School District, applied and was hired. Even though it isn’t the retail position she was hoping for, she is happy that she will now have the people contact that she so missed after she left her job with the doctor’s office.

Angie’s advice to women on the cusp of retirement is to have a part-time job or volunteer position lined up before leaving work.

When I think about the women I know personally who have recently retired or are eligible to retire at any time, there are examples of the circumstances described in this article, and more.

There’s a neighbor, a teacher who retired just in time to care for her elderly mother at the end of her life, and at the same time began taking care of her infant granddaughter full-time. My friend who is a massage therapist, at age 75, has no intention of retiring but sometimes struggles with fitting all her clients into her schedule, balancing her work with caring for her husband who has kidney disease and visiting their three children and five grandchildren, who live on both the East and West coasts.

And there are the women in my own family. My maternal grandmother was asked to come out of retirement and go back to work at age 80, making patterns for the textile company where she had worked for many years. She lived to be a healthy 106. After my mother retired from a 50-year long career in banking at age 70, she served two terms in the elected office of county commissioner, went to work for an investment firm at age 80 and worked 10 more years. She lived to age 98.

Representing the third generation in the family, I am being forced into partial retirement as the CEO of my home, as my children are both in college and I now have an empty nest.

At the same time, I am holding on tightly to my part-time career as a writer and editor for Lifestyles over 50. Along with singing at church, keeping up with my own family’s events, staying in touch with my extended family 600 miles away, and training my energetic rescue dog, working in publishing gives me purpose. I don’t get bored because I don’t have time. And that, to me, is a healthy way to live.

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