As tens of millions of Baby Boomers approach retirement age, there is a lot of public concern over dwindling Social Security reserves, insufficient health care and the deteriorating state of retirement savings. But instead of viewing aging only as a social problem, says the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, we should look to older Americans as part of the solution.
Baby Boomers are rewriting the definition of retirement. By 2004, sixty percent of older workers leaving full-time employment first moved to a part-time "bridge" job rather than directly into retirement. And instead of retiring automatically at 65, more older workers are lobbying employers for flexible work schedules, opportunities to work from home and shared hours with other employees.
Forward-thinking employers and legislators are realizing that keeping older workers on the job longer could help lower the strain on government services, fill gaps in the workforce (especially in the health care industry) and increase overall economic productivity.
"We're setting aside old assumptions that a career path is always a steady staircase, where people keep going up and up until they reach the top and then they precipitously drop off at retirement," says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Center on Aging & Work and a pioneer of the work/life movement.
The Center on Aging & Work not only researches work life issues facing Baby Boomers, but across the entire age spectrum. One of the central issues right now, says Pitt-Catsouphes, is workplace flexibility - the freedom to choose how, when and where you work.
As a research institute, the Center's goal is to collect as much data as possible about how people of different ages and from different countries experience work and employment. Through several simultaneous research projects around the world, the Center is trying to answer complicated questions about age, culture and the very meaning of work in the 21st century.
"The most recent economic crisis we're facing is throwing a lot of assumptions up in the air for reexamination," says Pitt-Catsouphes. "Do people still expect to retire? If so, is it a full retirement? What does that mean?"
The Center itself is a model multi-generational, multi-national workplace. Master's and doctoral candidates from the Graduate School of Social Work collaborate with senior staff members on many of the Center's research projects.
"These students are creating innovative and challenging ideas and research strategies for the rest of the researchers who are involved," says Pitt-Catsouphes. "It is, in its truest sense, a learning experience for everyone."