Second Wind: The Unretirement Journey

5 minute read time.

An old saying goes something like this: Find a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. For many of us, this holds true. And it can make retiring – using the old definition, where one stops working completely – a challenge. Today, an increasing number of people are deciding not to step back from work at the traditional retirement age of 65 because they need the income. Others are retiring, and returning to work after realizing full-time leisure just isn’t for them. These are the people who Mark S. Walton, a Peabody award-winning journalist and Fortune 100 management consultant, calls the “unretired.”

Data from a recent economic study from the Alliance’s Retirement Income Institute shows 64% of Peak Boomers – the youngest and last group of Baby Boomers turning 65 – will have retired or expect to retire by 2030, and 80% by 2034. The remaining 20% indicated they have no plans to retire.

In his new book, “Unretired: How Highly Effective People Live Happily Ever After,” Walton crisscrossed the United States to talk with unretired CEOs, Mayo Clinic doctors, attorneys, psychologists, neuroscientists, financial experts, journalists and others to speak with them about their decisions to keep working beyond the traditional retirement age. Those he talked with are part of a growing population. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, roughly one in five (19%) Americans 65 and up were employed in 2023. That’s nearly double the number it was 35 years ago and experts say the growth isn’t expected to stop anytime soon. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the share of workers aged 65 and up will reach 21% by 2032.


WATCH Your Money Map: Second Wind: The Unretirement Journey

Today, nearly 20% of Americans 65 and up are employed. That’s almost double the number it was 35 years ago. While the reasons for working later in life are many, for a good number, it’s simple–they love what they do. Mark S. Walton is the author of “Unretired: How Highly Effective People Live Happily Ever After.” On this episode of “Your Money Map,” he sits down with Jean Chatkzy to share what he’s learned from crisscrossing the country to talk with hundreds of people in dozens of professions about why they love the “unretired” life.

As Walton notes, the trend is largely being driven by Peak 65’ers who are college graduates and “knowledge workers” who have throughout their careers relied on their intellectual abilities, versus physical abilities to earn a living. While many people keep working or rejoin the workforce for the financial benefits, a number of the unretired Walton spoke with are not working for the money. Instead, it’s because of the sense of fulfillment working provides. The unretired he talked to for his book fall into three different categories:

  • Rebels: As Walton describes, these are people who have managed to stay in the same career field, and do similar work to what they did after they completed college, graduate or professional school. In his research for his book, Walton found a prime example of this at the Mayo Clinic. “10% of their physician workforce is over 65, which is absolutely outstanding,” shares Walton. “[They’re] some of the greatest brains in medicine. That’s an example of an organization that not only allows it but encourages people to stay on because they know the value.”
  • Reinventors: These are the people who, as the name says, reinvent themselves and do work using the skills they developed throughout their career while mixing them, oftentimes, with new interests. Those in this category tend to be solopreneurs, or in other words, individuals who are both the founder and the workforce for their business.
  • Creatives: Creatives are those who harness a new creative skill or ability they never knew they had and turn it into a new career path. “They see no reason to scale back their contributions or to scale back their engagement, when in fact, what they find is that they may very well be more effective, more productive, more intelligent and more creative,” says Walton.
    Despite the different categories, Walton says the unretired have several things in common, starting with engagement. “Engagement and a refusal to accept that there’s any reason to give up a lifestyle that’s been satisfying and important and productive…and in general, that makes a difference,” notes Walton.

For those concerned they won’t have the brainpower to join the ranks of the unretired, Walton has a simple message – don’t be. And, as he notes, science shows if the brain continues to be challenged, it will keep up, thanks to a little something called neuroplasticity. “The brain accommodates itself to whatever it is or isn’t challenged with,” says Walton. “So if you “retire” your brain, your brain will accommodate itself to that and you’ll be less capable than you were.” On the other hand, as Walton explains, if you are continually learning new things, and tackling bigger challenges, your brain will respond accordingly.


Brain resilience as we age, with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent for CNN and a practicing neurosurgeon.

Phased-in Retirement – with Allison Schrager, economist, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and columnist at Bloomberg Opinion.

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