Reboot, Rewire, or Retire: The Future of Phased Retirement

Anna Rappaport, FSA, MAAA is a member of the Pension Research Council Advisory Board, and the chairperson of the Society of Actuaries Committee on Post-Retirement Needs and Risks.

About 50 years ago, I became interested in demographic patterns and their impacts on society.  That led me a focus on distinct life cycle patterns and ways to gradually exit the labor force. First I took an employer perspective, but more recently I have taken the individual perspective.  For the last 15 years, I have experienced phased retirement, continued my research, and talked to other people about their experiences.

I learned that institutional structures do little to support the path to an interesting and successful phased retirement: instead, it is mostly up to the individual to make his or her own way.  I recently shared my story and a focus on the life portfolio in The Future of Retirement in The Retire with Purpose podcast series.

I find it important to have a mix of interests and activities that gives me joy and a sense of accomplishment.  My term for this structure of activities is the “Life Portfolio.”  Each retiree needs both a financial and a life portfolio.  The Life Portfolio consists of four different components:

Passions:  We must focus on the activities that create a personal sense of satisfaction and value.  Value is defined by what is in the heart.  For some people, it will be the arts; for others, continued professional work; travel; gardening; or mostly family.  Naturally, some will wish to have a combination of these, or even something entirely different.  Nevertheless, it is important to have a mix of activities, recognizing that interests and what is feasible may change, and to include some that are feasible should you become limited in some way.  Many retirees are limited because of their own fragility, or due to the need to help or be with other family members.

People: We also must think about who is important in our lives.  It could be family members, friends, people in our professions, people who can help us, people we enjoy being with, and more.  Social engagement is crucial for successful aging.  Many retirees spend considerable time helping other family members including parents, grandchildren, and others.  This last year reminded many of us just how important social engagement is.

Places: We must think about where we want to live, what type of community it should be, and where we want to travel.  The place we live defines our access to a variety of people, services, transportation, leisure activities, and more.

Health: Our health can impose limitations on what we can do. Staying active and physical activity are a big part of health. Staying healthy is important, but we also need to understand that we may need to adapt to decline.

My research has led me to several organizations that assist with jobs and activities for phased retirees.  I have also identified some strategies to help people find their way in later years.  My essay, Reboot, Rewire or Retire: Finding Opportunities, published in the Society of Actuaries Work and the Retirement Journey Essay Collection lays these out.  A few ideas for people working to build their life portfolio and their paths include the following:

  • We must find our passions and think about what will give us a sense of purpose and success.
  • Maintaining contacts can help secure opportunities and accomplish projects.
  • Some people are seeking board memberships, where they must pay attention to what is expected and how it can be accomplished.
  • Technology is often critical to success. A first step is to establish the technological environment that will work, including an appropriate support system when needed.
  • Several specialized organizations can help. Once you decide on your goal, you may be able to find guidance.
  • We must choose a path that can accommodate new limitations and constraints as things change.
  • Time management can be tricky when we no longer have the job or family constraints we lived with for years.
  • We must all learn to say no, and not do things that do not fit our desired paths.

For people who leave full time jobs with adequate financial resources, the next phase of life offers tremendous opportunity.  These people now have the chance to do the projects they always wanted to do, and pursue the interests they never had time for.

This is an interesting time to be pursuing phased retirement.  The pandemic cut off many activities and options during the last year, and also pushed us into learning to do more remotely and into working with different technologies. I anticipate that work and jobs post-pandemic will probably not be the same as they were before. I expect to see more use of remote work and greater flexibility in jobs.  A big question is whether this will enable phased retirees to create more opportunities for themselves.

The future will bring much reinvention of the nature of work and job models over the life cycle.  As more people live a 100+ year lifespan, I hope that this will open up new employment options for people: some will wish to work longer, while others will transition from full time work to more limited work and eventually full retirement.  Creative solutions to new opportunities await us!


Views of our Guest Bloggers are theirs alone, and not of the Pension Research Council, the Wharton School, or the University of Pennsylvania.