The Rise of Unretirement: Why More Retirees are Returning to Work

As the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, more and more retirees are returning to work in some capacity. With longer lifespans, many retirees want to remain engaged and find purpose in their lives. They may need additional income due to cost of living increases, medical expenses, or the desire for a lifestyle change. Many employers are also turning to hiring retirees as they provide experience with fewer demands and expenses than traditional hires. Finally, staying active with meaningful work can keep individuals mentally and physically healthy.


Unlocking New Horizons in the Unretirement Trend

Retirement used to be the finish line, a well-earned break from the daily grind, but the landscape is shifting. An increasing number of retirees are choosing to unretire, embarking on a new phase of life that involves returning to the workforce. Whether motivated by a desire for fulfillment, financial necessity, or a blend of both, unretirees are reshaping the retirement paradigm. In this article, we explore the growing trend of unretirement, the reasons behind it, and how it’s transforming the lives of retirees. Join us on this journey as we delve into the phenomenon of unretirement and what it means for retirees in today’s world.

The Unretirement Revolution: A Paradigm Shift

The image of retirement as a one-way street to leisurely days and endless vacations is evolving. Increasingly, retirees are opting for the path of “unretirement,” re-entering the workforce and embracing the benefits it offers. This shift in retirement dynamics is evident in the experiences of individuals like Richard Eisenberg, who chose to unretire after stepping away from a fulfilling career. He represents a growing number of retirees who are exploring the unretirement trend.

Eisenberg’s decision reflects a broader societal shift. According to a report from T. Rowe Price, approximately 7% of retirees are actively seeking employment during retirement, while 20% are already working part-time or full-time. This trend, which gained momentum during the pandemic, challenges the traditional notions of retirement. As Judith Ward, a certified financial planner, points out, “They might have been forced to retire, and now we’re seeing that they are reentering the workforce.”

The Drivers of Unretirement

Unretirement is a dynamic phenomenon, and its motivations are as diverse as the retirees themselves. While some are driven by a deep-seated desire for social and emotional fulfillment, others find themselves compelled by the pressing realities of financial necessity. This multiplicity of motivations underscores the rich tapestry of unretirees’ experiences.

A Quest for Fulfillment: Beyond the Bottom Line

For many retirees, unretirement is not solely about financial rewards; it’s a quest for personal fulfillment and purpose. Retirees, like the seasoned expert Richard Eisenberg, often discover that work offers more than just monetary gains. It serves as a profound source of satisfaction, connection, and purpose. This intrinsic motivation fuels their return to the workforce, where they can continue to contribute to society, maintain social connections, and stay mentally engaged.

Eisenberg and others like him explore opportunities such as part-time work or flexible gigs, which allow them to align their work with their interests, values, and lifestyle choices. The autonomy to select roles that harmonize with their retirement goals creates a meaningful and fulfilling work experience.

This emotional aspect of unretirement cannot be understated. Many retirees find that working part-time or in flexible positions enables them to experience the best of both worlds. They can enjoy the financial security of earning an income while simultaneously indulging in leisure, personal growth, and connecting with their passions. This duality—the ability to remain financially secure and fulfilled—resonates deeply with those who opt for unretirement as a quest for fulfillment.

The Financial Imperative: Navigating Challenging Realities

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a significant percentage of retirees—48% to be precise—are driven to unretire out of financial necessity. The landscape of retirement has shifted dramatically, presenting seniors with increasingly daunting economic challenges. This reality is most acutely felt among older adults, particularly those aged 65 and above, who grapple with issues such as homelessness, escalating poverty rates, and the mounting burden of debt.

The catalyst for this financial imperative was the pandemic, which thrust retirees into a realm of unprecedented economic uncertainty. The pandemic forced many older individuals into retirement, often prematurely, as they lost their jobs or faced daunting health concerns. The consequences of these decisions are now reverberating, as the financial realities of retirement have become more challenging and, at times, overwhelming.

Unretirement, in this context, is not just a choice but a lifeline. For many retirees, it provides a means to secure their financial stability and address pressing monetary concerns. It serves as a way to cover the ever-increasing cost of living, mitigate mounting debts, and fortify their financial future. The decision to unretire out of financial necessity is a pragmatic response to the uncertainties of retirement, enabling retirees to regain control over their economic well-being.

In summary, the motivations behind unretirement are as diverse as the retirees themselves. Whether driven by the pursuit of fulfillment and purpose or compelled by the pressing realities of financial necessity, unretirees are shaping their retirement experiences in unique and meaningful ways. Unretirement is not just a single narrative; it’s a vibrant tapestry of experiences driven by individual motivations and aspirations.

The Pathways to Unretirement

Unretirement is not a one-size-fits-all concept. It’s a dynamic journey with multiple pathways, each catering to the diverse needs and aspirations of retirees. In a world where the labor market is more flexible than ever, retirees have the opportunity to craft their unretirement experience according to their preferences.

Part-Time and Flexible Gigs: Balancing Work and Leisure

One of the most prevalent pathways to unretirement is through part-time work and flexible gigs. This option resonates with retirees seeking a balance between work and leisure. Part-time roles and flexible work arrangements accommodate retirees’ schedules, allowing them to continue pursuing their interests outside of work.

Part-time work offers retirees several advantages. First and foremost, it provides a valuable source of income, contributing to financial security without the pressures of full-time employment. This financial cushion can ease the transition into retirement and alleviate concerns about outliving one’s savings. Additionally, part-time work often comes with reduced stress and responsibilities compared to full-time positions, making it an attractive option for those who wish to maintain a lower-stress lifestyle.

Crucially, part-time and flexible gigs leave ample room for personal growth and leisure activities. Retirees can use this time to explore new hobbies, travel, spend quality moments with loved ones, or simply enjoy a well-deserved break. It offers the best of both worlds—financial stability and the freedom to savor the joys of retirement.

Entrepreneurship and Encore Careers: Forging New Beginnings

Some retirees opt for a more adventurous route by venturing into entrepreneurship or pursuing encore careers. These bold choices enable retirees to rekindle their passions, leverage their expertise, and embark on a fresh chapter in their professional lives. Entrepreneurship and encore careers offer a degree of autonomy that is empowering and inspiring.

Entrepreneurship provides retirees with the opportunity to start their own businesses. This path is particularly appealing to individuals who have long harbored dreams of being their own bosses. Retirees can tap into their accumulated knowledge, skills, and experiences to create and run businesses that align with their interests and values. Whether it’s launching a small artisanal business, consulting, or opening a cozy cafe, entrepreneurship allows retirees to realize their entrepreneurial aspirations.

Encore careers, on the other hand, involve transitioning into entirely new fields or roles. It’s an opportunity to reinvent oneself professionally. Many retirees find fulfillment in encore careers that align with their passions or lifelong dreams. For instance, a retired engineer may become a high school math teacher, sharing their wealth of knowledge with the next generation. The possibilities are vast, and the satisfaction derived from pursuing one’s true calling is immeasurable.

Addressing Financial Gaps: The Lifeline of Unretirement

For some retirees, unretirement is not merely a choice but a necessity born out of financial challenges. Insufficient retirement planning or unexpected financial surprises can lead retirees to reenter the workforce. The impact of inflation, rising living costs, or unanticipated expenses can create a pressing need for additional income.

Unretirement offers a lifeline for those who may have initially retired without a comprehensive financial plan. By returning to work, retirees can bridge financial gaps, ensuring that they can cover their living expenses comfortably. This financial security is especially critical for retirees who find themselves grappling with mounting debt or the increased cost of living.

The decision to address financial gaps through unretirement is a pragmatic one. It allows retirees to regain control over their financial well-being, reduce debt burdens, and enhance their cash reserves. Furthermore, for those who haven’t yet started claiming their Social Security benefits, returning to work presents an opportunity to delay claiming, ultimately resulting in higher benefits and greater financial stability in the long run.

In the realm of unretirement, retirees have a wealth of choices at their disposal. Part-time and flexible gigs, entrepreneurship, and encore careers empower them to shape their retirement experience in a way that aligns with their goals and aspirations. Moreover, for retirees facing financial challenges, unretirement serves as a lifeline, providing the means to secure a more stable financial future.

Wealth as a Determining Factor

The decision to unretire is also influenced by household assets and financial security. The T. Rowe Price report reveals a striking contrast in the attitudes of retirees based on their wealth levels. Retirees with lower household assets are more likely to return to work out of financial necessity, whereas those with substantial savings have more flexibility to choose whether to work or not.

The report highlights this distinction: 37% of retirees with household assets under $50,000 feel compelled to work, compared to 55% in the $50,000-to-$250,000 category and a significant 72% of retirees with assets exceeding $750,000. This discrepancy reflects the financial pressures faced by retirees and the role that savings play in shaping the unretirement landscape.

Gender Disparities in Unretirement

While unretirement affects both genders, women often face more significant challenges due to lower savings and reduced Social Security benefits. This gender disparity is rooted in factors such as lower incomes, higher debt loads, shorter job tenures, and time spent out of the workforce for caregiving responsibilities. The economic vulnerabilities of retired women drive many of them back into the workforce, highlighting the need for greater financial security and support.

The Financial Rewards of Unretirement

Unretirement is not merely a return to work; it’s a strategic move that can significantly enhance a retiree’s financial well-being. Unretirees have access to several powerful financial strategies that can transform their retirement landscape, bolster their economic security, and provide a more comfortable and prosperous future.

Delaying Retirement Account Withdrawals: Building Wealth Over Time

One of the primary financial advantages of unretirement is the ability to postpone retirement account withdrawals. This deliberate delay is akin to sowing seeds for a more abundant harvest. By refraining from tapping into retirement accounts, unretirees continue to accrue growth on their investments, which, over time, can have a substantial impact on their financial resilience.

The benefits of delaying retirement account withdrawals are manifold. First, it safeguards the longevity of retirement funds, ensuring that savings remain available for a more extended period. This, in turn, minimizes the risk of outliving one’s resources—a genuine concern for many retirees. Moreover, postponing withdrawals can help mitigate the potential negative impact of market fluctuations or economic downturns, allowing retirees to weather financial storms more effectively.

Unretirees who choose to delay retirement account withdrawals also reap the advantages of compounding returns. By leaving their investments untouched, they harness the power of time to grow their savings exponentially. This financial prudence can lead to a more robust and prosperous retirement, providing an increased sense of financial security.

Continuing to Save: A Shield Against Uncertainty

Unretirement offers a unique opportunity for retirees to continue saving even during retirement. The additional income earned through unretirement serves as a valuable resource that can be directed toward various financial goals. The ability to bolster retirement accounts, reduce outstanding debts, and enhance cash reserves can make a considerable difference in securing one’s financial stability.

The decision to continue saving during unretirement is a proactive measure that prepares retirees for a range of financial scenarios. It safeguards against unexpected expenses, such as medical bills or home repairs, which can arise during retirement. Additionally, having additional savings can reduce reliance on credit and minimize the financial strain associated with unexpected costs.

Furthermore, unretirees who prioritize saving are better positioned to maintain their desired lifestyle during retirement. They can pursue hobbies, travel, and other personal aspirations without compromising their financial security. This newfound financial flexibility is empowering and allows retirees to enjoy their golden years to the fullest.

Maximizing Social Security Benefits: A Smart Financial Move

Another vital financial strategy that unretirees can employ is the delay of Social Security benefit claims. For those who haven’t initiated their Social Security benefits, unretiring presents an opportunity to make a financially advantageous decision. Delaying Social Security claims can result in higher monthly payouts, thereby enhancing a retiree’s financial future and providing protection against inflation.

The rationale behind maximizing Social Security benefits through delay is compelling. Retirees who wait to claim benefits until they reach full retirement age or beyond can access significantly higher monthly payments. This can make a substantial difference in their overall income during retirement.

Moreover, these higher benefits are often adjusted for inflation, ensuring that retirees can maintain their purchasing power even as the cost of living rises. In essence, this strategy acts as a safeguard against the eroding effects of inflation, allowing retirees to sustain their desired lifestyle and financial security over the long term.

In conclusion, unretirement is not only a return to work but a financial strategy that can significantly benefit retirees. The ability to delay retirement account withdrawals, continue saving, and maximize Social Security benefits provides unretirees with the tools to secure their financial future, enjoy a more prosperous retirement, and protect against unforeseen financial challenges. Unretirement is not just about working—it’s about working smart.

The Emotional Aspects of Unretirement

Unretirement is not merely a financial strategy; it encompasses a profound emotional dimension that resonates deeply with retirees. It’s driven by a desire to stay engaged, maintain social connections, and find fulfillment during the retirement years. The emotional aspects of unretirement go beyond mere work—it’s about embracing a vibrant and fulfilling lifestyle.

The Transition Strategy: Crafting a Lifestyle of Choice

For a significant percentage of retirees, unretirement serves as a carefully crafted transition strategy. This strategy allows them to work in a way that aligns with their personal preferences and life goals. It is a deliberate choice to maintain an active, fulfilling, and balanced lifestyle during retirement.

Unretirement enables retirees to strike a unique balance between work and leisure, creating a lifestyle that aligns with their aspirations. It provides opportunities to generate income, engage with the world, and remain mentally stimulated. Rather than adhering to the traditional retirement narrative, unretirees embrace the autonomy to shape their post-retirement journey.

This approach is especially appealing to those who view work as an integral part of their identity and sense of purpose. By transitioning into part-time or flexible work, they can enjoy the best of both worlds—financial security and the freedom to pursue personal interests. This transition strategy empowers retirees to navigate the complexities of modern retirement and create a lifestyle that reflects their individuality.

The Freedom to Choose: A Second Chance at Fulfillment

Unretirement introduces a compelling concept: the freedom to choose. It offers retirees a second chance to redefine their working lives, unburdened by the aspects of their former careers that may have been less enjoyable. This newfound autonomy is liberating and empowering, allowing retirees to craft a work experience that aligns with their values and interests.

In essence, unretirement is about designing a personalized work journey. Retirees can select roles and opportunities that bring them joy, align with their passions, and reflect their evolving priorities. This freedom to choose creates a sense of agency and control, ensuring that retirees can shape their work life to match their aspirations.

Unretirees often seek out roles that align with their intrinsic motivations, whether it be pursuing a lifelong passion, sharing their expertise, or contributing to causes they deeply care about. This choice-driven approach offers a level of fulfillment that transcends the mere pursuit of financial security.

The Psychological Benefits: Nurturing Well-Being Through Work

The psychological benefits of work during retirement are significant and should not be underestimated. Numerous studies have shown that working provides essential elements for mental well-being, such as structure, routine, mental stimulation, purpose, and relevance. These factors collectively contribute to a positive and fulfilling mental state for retirees who choose unretirement.

Work offers a structured daily routine that provides a sense of purpose and direction. It creates a framework for retirees to organize their time, set goals, and make meaningful contributions. This structure fosters mental engagement and prevents feelings of idleness, which can lead to a sense of purposelessness.

Mental stimulation is another critical component of work. The challenges and tasks associated with a job require cognitive effort, problem-solving, and continuous learning. This mental engagement helps keep the mind sharp, active, and adaptable, contributing to cognitive well-being.

Work also provides a deep sense of purpose and relevance. Retirees who continue working often find that their contributions make a meaningful impact on their communities, industries, or organizations. This sense of purpose enhances self-esteem, self-worth, and overall life satisfaction.

Perhaps most crucially, unretirement can significantly reduce the risk of depression among retirees. Studies indicate that retirees who continue working tend to experience lower rates of depression compared to those who opt for full retirement. Work not only provides an outlet for social interaction but also offers a sense of accomplishment that bolsters mental health and overall well-being.

In conclusion, the emotional aspects of unretirement are profound, reflecting a desire to remain engaged, connected, and fulfilled during retirement. Whether through a transition strategy, the freedom to choose, or the psychological benefits of work, unretirees are discovering that work can be an essential and rewarding component of their retirement journey.



FAQ’s About Unretirement

1. What is unretirement, and how is it different from traditional retirement? Unretirement refers to the phenomenon where retirees return to work after initially retiring. It differs from traditional retirement, where individuals cease working permanently. Unretirement allows retirees to rejoin the workforce, either due to financial necessity or a desire for personal fulfillment.

2. Why are more retirees choosing to unretire? There are various reasons for this trend. Some retirees return to work to fulfill social and emotional needs, while others do so out of financial necessity. The economic realities of retirement, as well as the desire for purpose and connection, are motivating factors.

3. What are the financial benefits of unretirement? Unretirement offers several financial advantages, including the ability to delay retirement account withdrawals, continue saving, and maximize Social Security benefits. These strategies can significantly impact retirees’ financial well-being.

4. Are there emotional benefits to unretirement? Absolutely. Many retirees appreciate the emotional rewards of staying engaged, maintaining social connections, and finding fulfillment through work. Unretirement allows for a transition strategy that balances work, leisure, and personal interests.

5. How do household assets influence the decision to unretire? Household assets play a pivotal role in the unretirement decision. Those with lower assets are more likely to return to work out of financial necessity, while those with substantial savings have greater flexibility in choosing whether to work or not.

6. What are some common pathways to unretirement? Retirees can choose from various pathways, including part-time and flexible gigs, entrepreneurship, and encore careers. The flexibility of today’s job market allows retirees to tailor their unretirement experience to their preferences.

7. Is unretirement more common among a particular gender? Women are more likely to embrace unretirement due to financial disparities in savings and Social Security benefits. Lower incomes, higher debt loads, and shorter job tenures contribute to this gender gap in unretirement.

8. How do unretirees balance work with personal interests? Unretirees often find a balance by opting for roles that exclude less enjoyable aspects of their former careers. They have the autonomy to design a work experience aligned with their values and interests.

9. What is the role of unretirement in addressing the mental well-being of retirees? Working in retirement provides structure, routine, mental stimulation, purpose, and relevance, contributing to positive mental well-being. Retirees who continue working are less likely to experience depression compared to those who fully retire.

10. How can unretirement impact society as a whole? Unretirement has the potential to reshape societal perceptions of retirement. It highlights the importance of maintaining a connection to the workforce, regardless of age, and can contribute to financial security and emotional well-being for retirees.


  • Unretirement
  • Retirement trends
  • Financial security
  • Part-time work
  • Encore careers
  • Gender disparities
  • Emotional well-being
  • Social connections
  • Delaying retirement
  • Household assets


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