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By Mark Miller | 05-10-2011 12:31 PM

Bridging the Retirement Gap With an Encore Career

We're beginning to see the formation of a new stage of life between the middle years and old age, says author Marc Freedman.

Mark Miller: Hello, I'm Morningstar columnist Mark Miller, and I'm here today with Marc Freedman, who is the author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife. And he is the CEO of Civic Ventures, a nonprofit think tank, that's focused on advancing the cause of midlife career transitions. Marc, it's great to have you here with us today.

Marc Freedman: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

Miller: Marc, what is the next big stage in life for people who are at age 50 or even in their early 60s? We used to think about that next stage as being old age, right?

Freedman: And retirement, so many people for so many decades started thinking about moving into retirement in their early 50s; it was just a few years away. But people who are coming up to that juncture right now are realizing they are not going to be old for 20 years and probably can't sustain a retirement that's decades in duration. So they're thinking about this chapter in a new way, and I think, what we're beginning to see is the formation of a new stage of life between the middle years and anything resembling old age.

Miller: Your book is very visionary in looking at what that might mean, this new stage and trying to think creatively about helping people to think about this. One of the things that strikes me in reading your book is how optimistic it is. I mean, here at this moment we're coming out of a very tough time from an economic standpoint, and you're talking about people dreaming big dreams and starting big new things going on at this time of life.

Freedman: Well, you know, one way to think of it is making virtue out of a necessity. We are living longer, and we are going to have to work longer. But I think there is enough time for people in this period to do something significant, and I think for the first time ever larger numbers of people are moving into this chapter, and so in the book I am arguing that we need to think of this as a distinct period of life, and so in some ways you could see it as looking forward. And in other ways looking backward. We invent stages of life every 50 or 100 years. There was no adolescence in this country before 100 years ago, and then we had a proliferation of young people, who aren't quite children that weren't adults yet, and we invented the teenage years.

And I think, what's happening now is we've got large numbers of people who aren't in midlife anymore, but they're really not going to be old as we were talking about for a long period of time, and this period gets portrayed as kind of half of midlife, and half of old age, such as the young old or the working retired. We end up thinking of this group, I think, as the oxymoronic years. But I think it deserves its own name; it deserves its one social institutions and public policies. And in fact the people who are flooding into this period are the largest group in society. They dwarf the segment of the population that's truly elderly, and so I think this is not just a new phenomenon, but it's a mass phenomenon.

Miller: Right. So one of the things that makes this significant from a broad kind of policy sense or even economic sense is you've got this gigantic wave of baby boomers, who over the next 20 years are going to sort of crash into this period, right, like a wave?

Freedman: Right.

Miller: It doesn't happen all at once, but what makes that significant is that it's the largest generation in our country's history, and so whatever stage of life that group is in has economic and social ramifications. So a sort-of-negative stereotype you hear is that idea of, 'Oh, my goodness. The population is aging. It's going to be an albatross around our necks.'

Freedman: Right.

Miller: You're painting a potentially different alternate scenario where people continue to be productive for another 10-plus, 15, or 20 years, right?

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