What do you call it when someone leaves work at age 55? Beats me. Ask the person leaving work!

When I left work at 55, I was burnt out. Because of my age (and the lasting impression of Freedom 55 advertising), everyone called it retirement. And because I was burnt out, I called it retirement too.

My life until then had been heavy with changes – seven moves in ten years; a change in careers; a change in partners; and, like many in their 50s, a change in roles with a parent living with dementia. The changes, what you could see happening, weren’t the problem. It was the psychological journey, the transition happening within, that wasn’t keeping up. Although I didn’t know then where my life path would take me, deep inside I knew that I was not done yet! And I’m not alone.

There is data to suggest that the earlier you retire the more likely you are to return to work. Consider these results from the 2009 Canadian Community Health Survey – Healthy Aging where “older people,” those 55 and older, were categorized as never retired, partially retired, fully retired and previously retired but returned to work.

Of those who returned to work almost three-quarters were between the ages of 55 and 64. Many may have taken early retirement before returning to the labour force. Those who returned to work had the highest average level of educational attainment. One-third of returned workers were among the highest income quintile compared with only 8% of those who were fully retired.

Notable are the reasons people returned to work. The top five reasons included: liking working/being active (52%), financial considerations (52%), interesting work opportunity (30%), do not like retirement (29%) and wanting challenge (25%).

The partially retired had a significantly higher rate of self-employment than those who had never retired (43% versus 24%).

More recent data, from the 2016 census, points to nearly one in five Canadians aged 65 and older working during the year. About 30% of those worked full year, full time and most of those were men. People 65 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher and those without private retirement income were more likely to work. Overall the trend is that more and more people 65 and older are working in some capacity.

The expected age of retirement is pinned to the age at which you are entitled to penalty free access to government funded pension money. And that age was established back in the mid-1960s when average life expectancy for a man born in 1965 was 69 years and 75 for women. In Canada, if you reached age 65 in 2009, life expectancy for women was another 21.6 years (86.7 years) and another 18.5 years for men (83.5 years). There is no recent data on life expectancy by age however the overall trend is people living longer.

All of this to say that it may be time to revisit our notion of expected age of retirement. And that a break from working at mid-life, is not necessarily an exit from working. For me it was a time to recover and work through what would be next in life. And this is what I see in my clients, who, in their 50s, 60s and 70s, are also declaring they are not done yet!

They know that, as Benjamin Franklin declared, “When you are finished changing, you are finished.”

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