FIND YOUR IKIGAI
Andrew Hostetler is an associate professor of psychology in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. One of his primary areas of research is adult development and aging, particularly the “emerging seniors” (ages 55-64) and the “young old seniors” (65-74).
“I’m really interested in how people think about their later years in terms of their potential to do things that are meaningful and important to them,” says Hostetler, who notes that in Japan, the concept of ikigai (one’s reason for living) has been linked to longer lifespans on the island of Okinawa. “Whether it’s through paid work or not, having that reason to get out of bed, having that thing that keeps you engaged and on the move, is really important.”
Traditionally, people entered their “third age” of life, or post-retirement years, with the same energy and stamina of middle age, but without all the responsibilities of child-rearing and work. They could travel, take up hobbies and maybe play some golf or tennis.
“But for a variety of reasons, whether by choice or not, the role of seniors has changed,” Hostetler says. “More older adults are working and providing for their family."
Hostetler is concerned that in the U.S., a “bucket list” mentality is being promoted to those in later adulthood, counteracting the reality that many older people need to work.
“We’re selling what I call the ‘sexy senior lifestyle’ to older adults, whether or not they can afford it,” says Hostetler, who questions whether these pursuits lead to true fulfillment. “It’s not clear we’ve given people a whole lot of guidance around meaning, other than paid work.”
SECOND (AND THIRD) CAREERS
Thanks to new app-centric companies like Uber, TaskRabbit and Airbnb, the gig economy is often thought of as a young person’s game—something for millennials who crave the independence and flexibility of short-term work commitments.
But in reality, older workers have much higher rates of self-employment than do younger workers, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
“It’s good that older people can move from job to job, but where’s the security going to come from?” Psychology Prof. Sarah Kuhn says of the trend. “As older people continue to work, they may have Medicare, but they may still have to pay for supplemental coverage and things like that. If they could live on their Social Security or pensions, maybe they would be able to take unpaid work and contribute to nonprofit organizations and other causes.”
One way older Americans are increasingly contributing to society is in education, says John Brown, a clinical associate professor in the College of Education. Though he primarily trains teachers at the beginning of their careers, Brown says he is seeing a growing number of older adults who are looking to shift gears later in life and teachers. He says it can be good both for their financial and mental well-being.
“To get a new job, you have to have new skills. You have to have a new education and new training. And when you do that, that keeps your brain healthy,” says Brown, who notes that “there’s a lot of research that shows that could put off neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s or other geriatric diseases that include memory loss or mood swings.”