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What’s It Like to Turn 65 in 2024?

As the boomers’ ‘silver tsunami’ crests, the age once synonymous with retirement means something very different


spinner image kathy wheeler in three photos from left to right fishing on a boat with her husband outdoors and at a football game
On the cusp of turning 65, Kathy Wheeler has no plans to retire from her bank job or slow down an active lifestyle that includes fishing, visiting parks and attending sports events with her boyfriend, Jerry Micco.
Courtesy Kathy Wheeler

Kathy Wheeler is one of the nearly 4.1 million Americans who will turn 65 in 2024, but she doesn’t see reaching what was once the traditional retirement age as a particularly momentous milestone.

“Turning 65 is kind of weird,” says Wheeler, a Northern California native who moved in 2016 to Indiana, Pennsylvania, a college town about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, to be closer to her son and extended family. “On one hand, I’m getting a gazillion pieces of mail about getting ready to sign up for Medicare. But I don’t have any plans to stop working.”

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When he was 65, Wheeler’s father was retired, living on a golf course and spending his evenings playing bridge. She has found other ways to stay active: hanging out with her teenage grandkids; exploring Pennsylvania’s parks; going fishing and attending sports events with a retired newspaper editor she’s dating. (He’s a Steelers fan; she still roots for the 49ers.)

Leaving her job as a personal banker for a regional bank is “not something I’m even thinking about,” she says. “I’m not tired, I’m healthy and I enjoy my job.”

Wheeler is part of the crest of the baby boomers’ “silver tsunami” — the biggest group of Americans ever to reach the age that was long a symbolic marker of retirement and becoming a “senior citizen.”

Entering the era of ‘Peak 65’

In 2024, the country will see “the beginning of what we call the Peak 65 zone, when we’ll see the largest surge of Americans turning 65 in our history,” explains Cyrus Bamji, chief strategy and communications officer for the Alliance for Lifetime Income. The nonprofit financial education organization, which promotes annuities as a source of retirement income, coined and has trademarked the term Peak 65.

Over the past several years, about 10,000 Americans a day have turned 65. Bamji says recent Social Security Administration projections, based on census data, “have us running at about 4.1 million a year in 2024” — more than 11,200 per day — “and staying around that 4.1 million level through 2027.”

spinner image vintage photo of a retirement party in nineteen sixty two for lieutenant colonel philip sidmore from the office of president kennedys physician
Retirement, old-school: Lt. Col. Philip Sidmore cuts the cake at a party marking his departure from the White House Physician's Office in 1962.
Gibson Moss / Alamy Stock Photo

Many of these late boomers exemplify how the meaning of turning 65 has changed from what it was in previous generations, or even just 20 years ago. At an age when their parents or grandparents might have been handed a gold watch and ushered out the door by employers, the 65-year-olds of 2024 often are still working, and some have no plans to quit.

They’re also often physically and mentally healthier than their predecessors and can expect to live longer. But they also face potentially tougher financial challenges.

Here are some key areas in which reaching age 65 is different than it used to be.

Finances

“Historically, 65 has been the age at which people have anchored their expectations surrounding retirement and stopping work,” says Jason Fichtner, chief economist at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and senior fellow of the Alliance for Lifetime Income’s Retirement Income Institute. “In part, this was because 65 used to be the age at which someone could claim their full Social Security benefit.”

But that full retirement age (FRA) has been gradually going up since 2003 as part of a set of Social Security reforms enacted by Congress 20 years earlier. People born in 1959 can’t claim the full monthly benefit calculated from their lifetime earnings history until they reach 66 years and 10 months, 22 months later than it was for their parents. If they start Social Security in 2024 when they turn 65, it would reduce their monthly payment by 12 percent, for life.

Peak 65 members also are considerably less likely to enjoy a second form of guaranteed lifetime income: the defined-benefit pensions widely available to past generations of retirees.

“They’re going to have to take the money that they’ve saved over the years and make it last a lifetime,” says Barbara O’Neill, a former Rutgers University professor and author of the book Flipping A Switch: Your Guide to Happiness and Financial Security in Later Life. They’ll also be more vulnerable to market downturns early in retirement eroding their nest eggs, she says   

Those financial pressures may keep many 65-year-olds working for as long as they can.

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“Turning age 65 used to be the benchmark for most Americans to retire,” says Steve Azoury, a chartered financial consultant and owner of Azoury Financial in Troy, Michigan. “Today, it seems to be the starting point to plan your exit from the workforce.”

Health and aging

In 1959, the average 65-year-old American man could expect to live another 13.1 years, the average women 15.9 years, according to Social Security Administration data. People born in that year and turning 65 in 2024 have a life expectancy about five years longer, on average — 18.3 more years for a man, 20.9 for a woman. 

“People are living longer, and they have, in general, less disability compared to 20 or 25 years ago,” says Don Scott, M.D., director of geriatric medicine education at the University of Georgia. He cites factors such as increased screening for diseases such as cancer and hypertension and greater attention to healthy eating and living.

“The emphasis on exercise and continuing to stay physically active has really increased a great deal over the past 20 to 30 years,” he says.

With that increased level of activity, and the expectation that it will continue well past 65, many in this age group are opting to get hip or knee replacements, says Tamara Huff, an orthopedic surgeon in Columbus, Georgia. The average age for a hip replacement is 65.4 years, down from 66.3 years in 2000, according to research by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Today’s 65-year-old “is going to have higher demands, whether it be playing sports, being active in their yard with their grandkids — they're just much more active,” Huff says. “They expect that quality of life, they expect to be traveling. I think that’s the biggest difference that we are seeing — some shifts in that particular age group.”

Joint replacements also are more likely to be successful because the people getting them are in better shape than in the past, she adds: “One of the best predictors of how you’ll do after a joint replacement is your movement prior to it.”

But 65-year-olds also face health concerns unknown to their parents, such as sleep problems exacerbated by increased use of smartphones and other electronic devices, which can elevate the risk of age-related conditions such as dementia and heart disease.

“There’s so much more of this constantly being connected and not being able to feel like you can get downtime, and looking at screens when you wake up in the middle of the night,” Scott says. “I think this is going to be an increasing problem as we go forward, and certainly the answer to it is not more sleeping pills.”

Mental health and well-being

A longer, more gradual path to retirement is good for 65-year-olds’ mental health, according to Mary Alvord, a psychologist in Rockville, Maryland: “It’s an easier transition, as opposed to 20 years ago, when retirement was a hard stop.” That was particularly tough on men, she adds, because often, “their whole focus was work.”

Now, people in their “pretirement” years have a longer runway for personal exploration.

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“I have from 65 to 70 to start really thinking, What do I want to do?” Alvord says. “Where do I want to live, and how do I want to live? Do I want to create new hobbies? What do I want to learn?”

As they wrestle with these questions, mid-60s adults are more open these days to seeking help to deal with the psychological and emotional challenges that can arise, Alvord says.

“I think the stigma has definitely lessened,” she says. “They're seeing it as a positive — that it doesn't mean that you're really ill, just that you're facing some challenges and want some help. Talking to somebody about it and coming up with definitive structure and strategies.”

They’re also more likely to work at preserving their cognitive capabilities, according to Susan Albers-Bowling, a psychologist with the Cleveland Clinic.

“There is now a greater emphasis on brain health, cognitive training and memory enhancement techniques,” she says. Today’s 65-year-olds “may have more opportunities to engage in brain-stimulating activities such as puzzles, games and lifelong-learning programs, which can help maintain cognitive function and delay cognitive decline.”

Work

Fewer than half of U.S. 65-year-olds — 45 percent — are retired, compared with 58 percent in 2000, according to a February 2023 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. People ages 65 to 69 are now more likely to be employed than teenagers.

“The interest in working past the usual retirement age has been there for a long time and will continue to grow, as life expectancy and general health improves,” says Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and the director of its Center for Human Resources.

“That was in part having to pay for longer lives but more about the interest in engagement,” he says. “In the U.S., so much of our connections come from the workplace.”

spinner image kathy wheeler and her family
Kathy Wheeler (center) with her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. She moved from California to Pennsylvania in 2016 to be close to her family.
Courtesy Kathy Wheeler

Like Kathy Wheeler, who worked remotely for her old employer for several years after moving to Pennsylvania, some older workers are benefiting from hybrid offices that allow them to choose where and when they do their jobs. But others are on-site, working alongside colleagues who may be 40 years younger — and getting along with them surprisingly well, according to corporate consultant Erica Keswin, author of the book The Retention Revolution: 7 Surprising (And Very Human) Ways to Keep Your Employees Connected to Your Company.

“What the research shows is that Gen Z has a lot in common with baby boomers in that many times, what drives them even more than compensation is finding purpose in meaningful work,” Keswin says.

In a July 2023 survey of U.S. adults conducted for financial services company Empower, nearly two-thirds of Generation X and boomer respondents said they would be open to working indefinitely. Among all those polled, about the same share cited personal fulfillment or sense of purpose as a reason to keep working in retirement (41 percent and 37 percent, respectively) as cited financial need (40 percent).

Wheeler is so busy with her current life that she hasn’t really come up with any firm plans for what she’ll do when — or if — she stops working. She’d love to roam the U.S. and visit all of the Major League Baseball ballparks, and travel to Italy, Greece and other countries she hasn’t yet visited. But none of that even seems on the horizon yet.

“I think my hope for the future has nothing to do with working or not working,” she says. “It’s about staying healthy and being able to participate in whatever my grandkids and my son and daughter-in-law do.”

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