Time to retire the word retirement?

What’s in a name? For those entering retirement, the names and language financial advisors use can mean a lot, according to the book “What Retirees Want: A Holistic View of Life’s Third Age” by Ken Dychtwald and Robert Morison.

Dychtwald — a psychologist and gerontologist  — and Morison — a researcher, consultant and business management expert — recently sat down with a few members of the MDRT book club to discuss the book and the changing nature of retirees’ self-perceptions.

Retirement transformation

The entire realm of retirement is undergoing a “massive transformation” that has accelerated due to the pandemic. That entails a shift in mindset about what comes after one’s working life, Dychtwald said.

“Today when people reach 65 or 70, they are imagining they might have 20 or 25 more years in front of them, and they might have time to reinvent themselves,” he said, adding that retirees now often look forward to rethinking their identity as the next chapter in their lives.

Dychtwald said they are increasingly asking the questions: “What matters to me now? What do I want my legacy to be? How do I spend these decades of my life that we call the third age — doing things that will not only make me feel good but also perhaps contribute to my community and the future?”

Is calling someone a “senior citizen” offensive?

The way older adults see themselves is also changing the language financial advisors use when speaking with them, according to Dychtwald and Morison. Julianne Hertel, CLTC, a five-year MDRT member from Worcester, Massachusetts, said one big takeaway from the book is its exploration of those language shifts, such as the use of words like “elders” or “older adults,” rather than “seniors,” and the rise in popularity of phrases such as “the time that work becomes optional” in place of the word “retirement.”

“Retirement is the granddaddy term of them all” that the book aims to tackle, according to Morison. “We believe that word is not big enough to encompass the great variety of opportunities that elders have these days,” he said. “Think of it as a whole third age that may last decades and decades, full of opportunity and excitement. I don’t know if we can retire the word retirement, but maybe we can help a little bit.”

Clients tend to get itchy when they’re referred to as seniors, but they’re more receptive to the idea of being an elder, Dychtwald said, who at age 70 continues to work. “There’s kind of a purpose behind that — a leadership purpose,” he said, adding that while some cringe at being called retirees, others see it as a banner of success. 

“Some people think others are going to judge them as being no longer relevant,” Dychtwald said. “So you want to listen to how they refer to this stage in life to give you the clues for the way they want to think about it.”

See more from the discussion in the video, “Is your mindset about older adults outdated and offensive?” Below, you can watch a review of the book. Learn more about MDRT book clubs at mdrt.org/bookclub.


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