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New Book: Beyond Midlife: the Story is Changing


bookcover-the big shift
As tens of millions of people in North America move beyond midlife, expectations are changing.

Author Marc Freedman argues the “old map of life”, which guided us for generations, is out-dated. In his new book, The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife (Public Affairs), he invites us to think of people in their 60s and 70s as explorers of the uncharted territory beyond midlife and before true old age. Freedman calls this new life stage the “encore stage.”

“The surge of people moving into this new stage of life is one of the most important social phenomena of the new century,” Freedman writes. “Never before have so many people had so much experience and the time and the capacity to do something significant with it.”

Aging, as possibility

Freedman admits much about the new life phase remains unclear, but work is emerging as a defining feature. Surveys by Civic Ventures and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) show a majority of Americans approaching retirement want to continue working full-time or part-time past traditional retirement age.

And among those who plan to continue working, many are looking for work that makes a difference in the world. A survey by AARP found that boomers rank teaching, nursing and childcare in the top 10 most popular post-retirement occupations.

Encore life stage

In The Big Shift, Freedman calls for social and cultural change to tackle:

  • the impact of growing lifespans; and
  • retirements spanning two or three decades.

Freedman argues for a stage of life beyond midlife that is characterized by “purpose, contribution and commitment, particularly to the well-being of future generations.”

Freedman explains the idea of a new developmental life stage is not new. Granville Stanley Hall, the turn-of-the-century psychologist and writer, first identified a post-retirement phase in the 1920s. He described the new stage in Senescence: The Last Half of Life.

In the late 1980s, demographic historian Peter Laslett heralded a new period between the middle years and old age that he called the “third age.” He set out his manifesto for third agers in A Fresh Map of Life.

New pioneers

In one of The Big Shift’s most striking sections, the author recounts stories of how the encore stage has worked for “a new group of pioneers.”

The pioneers include:

  • a cook, who became an elementary school teacher;
  • an engineer, who went back to school to become a social media manager for a seniors’ organization; and
  • a fundraiser for Boston’s main public television station, who became a park ranger working on environmental issues in Yellowstone National Park.

Call to action

With nearly 8,000 people turning 60 every day in the United States, Freedman says it is time to put new social structures in place to harness the potential of this powerful demographic shift. He proposes a 10-point plan to help people navigate their way in a new map of life.

His call to action includes:

Elevate encore careers: Freedman has spearheaded the encore-jobs movement; he founded an educational non-profit group called Civic Ventures, of which he is CEO. In the book, he calls for new policies to make it easier for more people to find encore careers including training programs, opportunities to upgrade skills and flextime to care for aging parents.

Establish Individual Purpose Accounts: “Individual Purpose Accounts” are savings vehicles similar to tax-free health or college savings accounts that allow older adults to save for their own encore career transitions including a grown-up gap year.

Changes to social security: Make social security payouts flexible, so individuals could use them to subsidize a renewal period, and stop them as they return to the workforce.

Adult education: Create programs to support development in the later years that blend vocational preparation, personal transformation and intellectual stimulation.

With verve and passion, Freedman ends The Big Shift with a 20-question discussion guide to help readers spark conversations among friends and colleagues.