In the 1991 film City Slickers, an ad salesman entrenched in a midlife crisis (played by Billy Crystal), unexpectedly casts a shadow of gloom and doom over his son’s grade-school class on Career Day.
“Value this time in your life, kids,” he says, because it’s when you still have choices. He tells them what they can expect in their teens, 20s and 30s — and that they’ll grow a little potbelly and another chin in their 40s. He then moves on to the second half of life.
The 50s bring minor surgery; the 60s, major surgery and hearing loss. In your 70s, you retire to Fort Lauderdale. “You start eating dinner at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, you have lunch around 10, breakfast the night before,” Crystal continues with deadpan delivery. “You spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate soft yogurt and muttering, ‘How come the kids don’t call? How come the kids don’t call?’”
“In the 80s, you’ll have a major stroke,” he adds, before asking his mortified son (young Jake Gyllenhaal) and his shell-shocked classmates if they have any questions.
Unfortunately, midlife crises and late-life medical crises still plague many people. But what has changed since the movie’s release three decades ago is the increased focus on trying to live well with purpose in the second half of life.
A New Way of Thinking
A crop of organizations that didn’t exist back then — including the Stanford Center on Longevity, the MIT AgeLab and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging — are refining what it means to be “old” and are working to help people live meaningful, healthy and valued lives.
At this stage of life, people “are looking for purpose and connection, and that drives to a reason to get up in the morning, to work together with other people, with other generations,” said Marc Freedman, president, CEO and founder of Encore.org, during the “Rethinking the Second Half of Life” panel at the 2020 Century Summit, convened virtually by the Longevity Project in collaboration with the Stanford Center on Longevity.
“I think we need to be really creative in coming up with ways to not just meet the needs of the frailer end of the population,” he said, “but to create this kind of ongoing sense of a life that still matters.”
Getting old doesn’t necessarily mean having to slow down—although some seniors are content to do this after a lifetime of hard work. Instead, more people are realizing that they want and can have a more active and engaged life well into their 60s and beyond. This can entail working, volunteering, embracing old and new hobbies, and building relationships.
What the Numbers Show
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the labor participation rate among 65- to 74-year-olds to reach 30.2% by 2026, up from 17.5% in 1996. Among those 75 and over, the BLS expects the labor participation rate to more than double to 10.8% from 4.7% over this same time period.
The percentage of workers employed part time jumps significantly between ages 55 to 64 (22%) and 65 to 74 (44%), and continues to climb for those 75 and older (50%), reports the AARP Public Policy Institute, citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau
Whether by choice or necessity, retirement isn’t part of the near-term game plan for many baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964). According to the 19th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey, the majority of this demographic still in the workforce (69%) plan to retire after age 65 or don’t plan to retire.
A key driver of increased labor force participation among older adults is improved health, according to the “Older Americans In the Workforce” whitepaper from Capital One.
In more good news, living a purposeful life has also been found to be beneficial to one’s wellbeing.
According to a study published in 2019 in JAMA Open Network, having a purpose in life is associated with decreased mortality. This study looked at data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a longitudinal panel study of U.S. adults over age 50.
Another study, published in JAMA Psychiatry and also based on HRS data, associated having a purpose in life with decreased risk of developing weak grip strength and slow walking speeds.
Having greater purpose in life has also been found to be a protective factor with self-perceived cognitive decline among late middle-aged adults, according to a paper published last year in the Journal of Affective Disorders on research conducted with participants of the Emory Healthy Aging Study.
Add Value to Client Relationships
Helping clients find a greater purpose in life is one way financial advisors can add value and build client relationships. Everyone’s definition of purposeful is different, so it’s important that advisors don’t impose their personal views on clients. Instead, be prepared to be a good listener and remember to read between the lines. Inquire about clients’ skills, hobbies, families and goals.
If a client expresses anxiety or skepticism about retiring, ask them what specifically is troubling them. If they’re worried they won’t have enough money, crunch the numbers for them. If they’re concerned about boredom, ask what makes them happy or content. Ask them if they’ve considered working part time.
Tell clients about classes and other events that may interest them. Share research, articles and actionable advice you come across that could help them feel more fulfilled in the second half of life — even if they haven’t yet crossed this threshold. And take some time to think about what also makes you feel purposeful.
Jerilyn Klein is editorial director of Rethinking65. Have you been taking initiatives to help your older clients feel more purposeful? We’d love to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.