More Canadians opt to keep working longer and do what they love

Canadian author Margaret Atwood typifies the new attitude toward retirement: Why bother when you love your work? The Handmaid’s Tale, a popular television series based on her 1985 novel, recently wrapped up its second season. And in July, Atwood embarked on a promotional tour of the UK after participating in a creative retreat to encourage budding authors.

As Atwood and others like her illustrate, there is no magic age to retire. It’s a journey that has little to do with slamming on the brakes at a specific age.

Boomers are behind this growing trend to work longer and redefine “retirement.” The number of Canadians working past age 65 has more than doubled during the past decade to 797,000, according to Statistics Canada. In all, 13.5 percent of us are now working. That compares to 8.6 percent a decade ago.

These trends, combined with a growing desire among older Canadians to better leverage their increased life expectancy, suggest that new thinking is called for in the way that we prepare for retirement. This plays out in reframing three priority areas.

Start with health

Mickey Mantle used to joke that “if I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” The baseball legend wasn’t wrong. Most advisers start by focusing on finances. However, today’s longer, more active retirements suggest that prioritizing health may be more effective.

Average life expectancy in Canada is 82.2 years (compare that to 65.06 years, as it was in 1946 when the first Boomers were born). But, half of us will live longer.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle pre-retirement vastly increases the range of options that are open to you during those years. Not only will you be able to work longer (if you choose), you will have more fun doing it.

A study published in Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who are fit or become fit (there’s still hope!) in middle age deal with fewer chronic ailments (heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, colon and lung cancers) later in life, allowing greater productivity in the traditional post-retirement years.

A study from the US-based National Bureau of Economic Research shows that people who are among the healthiest 20 percent during their 50s retire with three times the assets compared to those who were the least healthy.

Furthermore, aging increases recognition that the best things in life are often free. You can live modestly but remain relatively happy. So, focus on health first.

Family comes next

Boomers tend to gauge retirement needs based on their own projected expenses. Few realize that their kids and grandkids, who have fewer opportunities than those of previous generations, may need help.

For one thing, these offspring are carrying huge obligations. Canadian governments, businesses and households now owe nearly $6 trillion collectively. That debt, which includes government pension plans, many of which are not fully funded, works out to more than 300 percent of GDP. Furthermore, according to the 2016 census, more than one in three Canadians aged 20 to 34 live with their parents. That means that Boomers who invest in their children’s education and income-earning potential will generate vastly disproportionate returns.

Save now, save more

Longer, more active retirements suggest that those who are planning to retire need to start earlier and save more. Sadly, many aren’t doing so. According to a survey conducted by RBC, almost half of Canadians aged 55 and older are not on track with their retirement planning. Nearly one in six of those polled haven’t even started saving yet. There are numerous reasons for this tardiness. Some don’t have the funds available to put aside. Others procrastinate. That needs to change. 

Focus on fun and fulfillment 

Once the basics are taken care of, your focus can shift to maximizing personal satisfaction. 

At 78, Atwood has just published the script for the latest volume in her graphic novel series, Angel Catbird: The Catbird Roars. There aren’t many Margaret Atwoods running around, but she provides a pretty good role model for how one might want to live.

Originally published in Issue 02 of YouAreUNLTD Magazine. PG. 54