By Kay Kipling February 1, 2010

Sarasota’s unique demographic (nearly 30 percent of our population is 65 or older) has made it a natural spot for SCOPE (Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence) to champion an Institute for the Ages to seek new approaches to aging and retirement issues. The group’s Winter Forum, Feb. 26 at the Chelsea Center (call 365-8751 for info), features speakers including Dr. Phyllis Moen, who holds the McKnight Presidential Chair in Sociology at the University of Minnesota. We talked with her about her research.

Why do you call your talk “The Perfect Storm—The Perfect Opportunity?” Other people call the situation we face “The Perfect Storm”—Social Security falling apart, the economy the worst it’s ever been, all the Baby Boomers hitting retirement age, etc. I see it as a perfect opportunity, because the old blueprints about retirement are going out of date. You have the chance to customize your own life course now.

What does your research tell you about retirement today? People who remain engaged, whether in paid work or meaningful civic activities, tend to thrive—provided it’s something they want to do. It’s the idea of having control over your life. One of the people I talked to is the former vice president of a large corporation who’s very happy now selling hot dogs at a ballpark. It’s less intense, and he doesn’t have to do it all the time. One of the keys is regular communication with other people, to avoid social isolation.

Are you familiar with Sarasota? Not really yet, but I think it’s on the cutting edge of forming ideas of how to deal with these issues. It’s a microcosm of what’s going to be happening everywhere.

What did you hear most often in your research interviews? Many people say they want to work after their official retirement, but most don’t do it. I compare it to graduating from college; but then there are various third parties to help you find a job. It’s much harder to find that when you’re older, especially if you don’t want full-time or full-year work. I feel we’re coming to the idea of a “third age,” the age after what’s been considered retirement age.

Any real eye-openers? Most people have ended up retired—laid off, perhaps—earlier than they expected to. They’ve said, “I will think about that later”—and suddenly later is here. Also, increasingly there’s a problem with two retirements in the family—his and hers. It used to be just single women and men who “retired.” Now married women are retiring, too. And if one partner retires before the other, that can cause a rough period of adjustment.

What about retirement for you and your husband? My husband is retired, and he doesn’t play golf or have major hobbies, so he decided he wanted to volunteer in a local grade school, and he’s very happy. Myself, I can’t think of retiring. Academics tend to still teach a class or two or write; I love what I do.—Kay Kipling

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