In an earlier post, we explored how the practice we call “retirement” is transforming under the influence of the Baby Boomers. Now let’s look ahead to what we anticipate happens next.

In the first chapter of James Michener’s captivating 1959 book Hawaii, he talks about how for millions of years, large tectonic plates were slowly moving and grinding against each other far below the sea that we now call the Pacific Ocean. As these forces converged, masses of land started to rise up from those plates and ultimately surfaced as beautiful Polynesia.

And so it is with the future of retirement. For thousands of years, medical, economic, social, and demographic forces have been shifting and often grinding against each other. From this interplay a new stage of life has been emerging and morphing. Worldwide, nearly a billion people are in or near retirement, and they enjoy many more options and opportunities for how to spend their newfound time affluence.

In 2004, we wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “It’s Time to Retire Retirement,” for which we were proud to receive a McKinsey Award (tied with the legendary Peter Drucker). We now believe the word “retirement” is reaching the end of its line. It’s far too small and narrow for what is now emerging. Its positive connotations – freedom, leisure – tell only part of the story. Its negative connotations – withdrawal, decline – are increasingly problematic. The words “retirement” and “retiree” will most likely linger for another decade or so, but their meanings will evolve as the lifescape of retirement keeps expanding, disaggregating, and diversifying.

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