A Review: The Four Pillars of “New Retirement”

Written by Jessica Novello, MS, RN, CDP


In 2020 Age Wave and Edward Jones (using The Harris Poll) embarked on a landmark study to look at the journey of “new retirement”. They polled over 9,000 North American retirees across 5 generations to explore several facets of their journey and goals. Since the ideal retirement lasts 29 years, it is important to look at the dimensions (termed “pillars”) that support a successful retirement journey and determine quality of life. It is important to note that there is an overall theoretical shift replacing retirement as “a winding down of life” to using retirement as a “time of personal growth and freedom”. A brief primer (with some of my notes) on the main pillars is below:


Family retirees are less burdened with work and can enjoy more time with friends and family. These relationships have been found to provide mutual social support and lend a sense of purpose to retirees. It is important to note that 72% of retirees worry about becoming a future burden on their friends and families, however only 25% have had discussions about end of life and long term care preferences. I think a big take away is family/friend time is a worthy social investment, but it is important to reserve space to discuss future goals so that your loved ones are not left carrying a heavy burden of guessing about your preferences and plans.  Planning ahead and communicating your plans (both financial and healthcare) can protect these important social connections and keep them positive.


Health- Our longer lifespans do not necessarily equal a longer “healthspan”. An average of 12 years of retirement may be impacted by illness or debility. It is increasingly important to take care of our physical health, social health, and mental health. The advent of medical technology can extend our lives, but it is our job to protect our broader measures of health to make the most out of that time. It is important here to note that many people are able to find health and happiness when faced with a disability (even if that means changing goals or usual practices). For example, chair yoga may replace a standard practice, aqua aerobics may replace high impact options, a book club member may rely on audible (spoken word) books in the face of visual losses, or strong social connections may come from a support group focused on a shared life obstacle.


Purpose- Retirees have an estimated 7 hours of free time per day. This leaves 1/3rd of retirees rediscovering or redefining their purpose. Purpose can be broad enough to encompass religion and volunteerism or crafting or engaging in a hobby. I find that some of the most meaningful “purposes” combine several common areas- i.e. knitting hats for babies in the NICU or volunteering to cook and deliver meals with a church service group. Retirement may be the time to uncover an old passion for tennis (even if your play is casual or you become a youth coach) or try a new artistic endeavor (some of the best artists and authors began in middle or late age)!


Finances- Retirees find that finances are the frame of their bigger picture when it comes to retirement freedom and a feeling of security. The recession paired with rising healthcare and living costs (especially out of pocket medical expenses and long term care) has shaken that feeling of security for many retirees. Retirement planning is changing in terms of risk and investments and protecting assets/projecting expenses. Investing in policies and vehicles to finance future life costs, including health and long term care expenses is a game of risk vs. years/dollars invested. Many retirees don’t want to purchase plans and policies for long term care while they are well, but these options are often not available to those with illnesses or advanced age. It is a balancing game that is best played by keeping an eye on expenses and opportunities and leaning into resources for planning.


To summarize, retirement is a time to invest financially, but also in yourself. As we move towards lengthening our lives, we also need to work on our health, social connections and purpose to increase meaningful and well years.


Learn more and read the report here: