We’re Not in Our Grandfather’s Retirement Any More

Tai Chi Punch

By Ed Zinkiewicz

Does that title ring any bells for you? Do you remember Kansas? And Oz? Dorothy would truly be amazed. Consider what she would find coming back from Oz today:

  • Hundreds of thousands of centenarians worldwide are alive today and the population in general is living longer.
  • People are retiring later and staying active for a longer time in retirement.
  • Diseases and maladies earlier considered a death sentence now have cures, and for others treatments are available to extend life.

Melded together these changes have significantly shaped a new view of retirement.

My wife and I have talked often about the old 3-R’s of Retirement: Reward, Relax, and Recreate. As young adults we were very happy with her grandparents’ plan to commute between Ohio and Florida. We still have some of the lovely figurines and jewelry her grandmother crafted from minute, painstakingly hand-colored sea shells while on the Florida swing of the yearly migration. Then too, my sister, daughter, niece, and I often regale ourselves with memories of my mother’s enthusiastic visits to the bingo hall.

Reward, Relax, and Recreate have not disappeared. But they are relegated to an older crowd of “seniors” who are also happy to climb on the bus at FiftyForward centers, the Y, or churches for a luncheon or sight-seeing tour. In fact these things are so “relegated” to that age group that active, but younger retirees often totally ignore offerings designed specifically to address the new needs of their “younger” generation. The programs suffer from guilt by association: If it is provided under the umbrella of “senior” ministry (services, programs), it is definitely NOT for us!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with bingo or field trips. But they were designed for an audience who only had time (and energy) left for the rewards of retirement. The “younger” crowd was raised in a different milieu, has more time, and is generally more physically able. As a result they have different needs and expectations. Here is a sampling:

Search for Meaning

“Younger” retirees are used to following their passions or sense of purpose in the work place. This orientation started early. Think of it this way: How many retirees do you know who went off to serve in the Peace Corps in the 1960s or 70s? And when they struck out to find paying jobs, the same sense of purpose guided their choice of career and later motivated other transitions,  like leaving gainful employment to “find themselves” seeking out new jobs or careers.

If meaning is such an effective motivation to work, is it any wonder that many retirees just keep on working? If it was meaningful yesterday at age 64, would it not also be so today at age 65? Why stop? Well, of course, if you need the money (and half the people working into retirement say they do), continuing to work may be an easy choice on two counts, providing meaning as well as money.1

The tenacity to “make a difference” represents a radically new value system at work. My grandfather would have slapped me up the side of the head when I left a perfectly good job prospect to go to graduate school. He would have said, “Who cares if you like the work? Does it support your family?” But “younger” retirees are not living their grandfather’s life. And their urges for meaning, purpose, or passion don’t die with retirement. And interestingly, losing them—even voluntarily to retirement—is often a source of grief.

The Search to Belong

Another obvious change is connection. These “younger” retirees want to feel as though they belong. The Peace Corps was not just a place to do meaningful work, it was a calling to belong to. If you were in the Peace Corps, you participated in a worldwide program that strove to make a difference.

Does it surprise you that many of our peers found employment in service occupations such as social work, teaching, ministry, counseling, medicine, and so on? A personal desire to help transformed into a drive belong to a group that seemed to share the same desires.

Little wonder that people in such vocations are often the last to retire. When I work with folks of retirement age, the ones who are least likely to want to retire are those individuals vested in service they have found meaningful. At those work places they found not just companionship but also people who cared as deeply as they. Kindred spirits. Little wonder some folks descend into isolation or depression when left to their own devices to find companionship during retirement.

When the “water cooler,” the point of easy socializing at the workplace, disappears, retirees can have a crisis. Not only do they not meet people, but also they have little training or experience in building new water coolers.2

Retirement is not just a search, however. It is also a time to face consequences of milieu spoken of earlier. I’ll summarize it under a big heading of


Retirees are not the only ones who can expect to live longer. So can their parents. Sadly, the parents are no longer as able as they once were. That means that many retirees are faced with increasing demands on their resources to care for ailing parents, other relatives, friends, and spouses. A recent Alzheimer’s Association report calculated that caregivers provided $217 billion dollars worth of service in 2014 to patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and other dementias (calculated at $12.17 per hour of service).3 That figure does not include what caregivers also spend out-of-pocket towards their task. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 34% of these caregivers are 65 or older themselves.

At the same time, children are coming home again. The fabled “basement” dweller is not really a fable at all. According to a 2012 Pew Research study4, 36% of the grown children between 18 and 31 (Millennials) live at home. Having adult children at home impacts the longer-lived parent financially whether or not the parents welcome this behavior.

Caregiving does not stop there. An increasing number of grandparents are also raising their grandchildren.5

No matter how many generations are involved, often the resulting scenarios hinder retiree plans. Caregiving constrains available time while needing the extra space for unexpected and extended “guests” limits any downsizing efforts. Retirees are unable to work because of caregiving responsibilities and unable to cut expenses while the house is still in full use. Sounds like the proverbial rock and hard place.

The Church Can Respond

I suggest four simple strategies to guide congregational ministry with the “younger” retiree group:

Catch them early: The retirement party is not designed to help an individual plan what to do in retirement. The planning is vital, however! Consider a pre-retirement class or small group; help prepare them for what is ahead. To do that you’ll need to know who is “coming of age.” Is your church keeping track?

Keep in contact: Help “young” retirees acquire a new place to belong. What service projects might be of interest to this audience? As people work together they get to know one another and bond. Start with interests or needs in your own congregation or neighborhood: A porch that needs tending, dresses that need making, people who need feeding.

Engage retirees in leadership: Retirees today want to take the lead. Let them. Encourage them. Support them. Their skills and expertise have not retired!

Be supportive: Caregiving respite is important. Does your church have a program to give the caregiver a break? Caregiving to caregivers is also important. What about a support group for caregivers or a lesson series?

In all these activities be invitational; reach beyond your congregation. You might even do some sessions or projects in a non-church venue.

As a nearly or newly retired individual, please don’t be retiring in your search for the perfect retirement – the world needs more engaged, caring individuals. As congregations seeking service and witness, don’t retire your efforts with this age-group.

Ed Zinkiewicz
…the retired guy

Ed Zinkiewicz left a successful 40-year career as a software engineer to become an author, speaker, and workshop facilitator. Ed is the author of the Retire-To series and a contributor to Mature Years, Ministry Matters, Presbyterian Outlook, and S.A.G.E. He also facilitates AARP Life Reimagined Checkups, is a member of the Middle Division Leadership Team of AARP in Tennessee, and speaks to groups on issues related to life transitions.  Ed and his wife, Crys, live in Nashville, TN.  Ed can be contacted at edz@retire-to.com, by phone at 615-948-0198 or by visiting www.retire-to.com



1 Retire to Play and Purpose identifies at least 17 ways the loss of a job or life’s work can work against earlier notions of relaxing in retirement. Retirees need guidance to help replace what is missed; the book also goes into detail to help the reader take that vital next step.

2 Retire to Great Friendships discusses one central element to community in the workplace: the “water cooler.” Most of us have such a place—a lunchroom, laboratory, lounge, construction site, and so on—where we congregate informally at work. Literally. It is where we build community. We don’t have water coolers in our living room. The book guides the reader through the steps of building a new community.

Study guides are available for both books. There are additional videos, blogs, and interviews at retire-to.com that can be used for individual study or group discussion. Contact Ed through his website for suggestions.

3 Alzheimer’s study can be found at the Alzheimer’s Association website: alz.org. The report itself is here: https://www.alz.org/facts/downloads/facts_figures_2015.pdf

4 PewResearch Center study of 2013 is available here: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2013/07/SDT-millennials-living-with-parents-07-2013.pdf

5 You can find additional information about relatives raising children at grandparents.com or raisingyourgrandchildren.com.

Original article published in SAGE Newsletter, Issue 30, Spring 2016, Discipleship Ministries.  Reprinted with permission