New Patterns of Work, Retirement & Learning

New Patterns of Work, Retirement & LearningAs a result of aging trends in America, new work patterns and work policies are emerging, retirement is being re-defined, and lifelong learning or continuous learning is coming to the fore. These trends will continue and will evolve as more and more Baby Boomers turn 65 and more active older adults reject traditional definitions of work, service and retirement.

For example, some older adults are now participating in “community work,” whereby they receive minimal compensation, if any, for dedicating their time and talents to community needs. As another example, there are large numbers of older adults who took a traditional retirement, only to find that full-time leisure was not satisfying.

These adults have gone back to prior positions – perhaps at half-time – learned new skills, changed careers, or started new businesses. According to the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurship, older adults constitute the fastest growing cohort of small business entrepreneurs.


Learning is one of the top priorities cited by older adults in surveys of their interests. The interest in learning opportunities is positive news, given the new scholarship on the positive impacts of intellectual stimulation for brain health.

Ways Adults Learn

Older adult learning takes many forms. Some older adults tend towards informal learning, through conversations and meet-ups, gatherings of special interest groups, peer-led travel, or skills improvement in photography, Photoshop or fishing. Others approach learning through reading or viewing and discussion.

Libraries report that as many book groups as they organize, there are usually more registrants than they can accommodate. “One Book, One Community” programs, film discussions, group readings, themed readings and online book clubs – all of these formats attract older adult participants, and in some cases older adults themselves are the facilitators or organizers.

Formal learning also attracts older adults, while allowing for partnerships between community institutions, such as libraries, and institutions of higher education. Formal learning many involve lecture series, courses taken for credit, or opportunities to sit-in on university classes.

Mary Catherine Bateson on “Adulthood II”

Bateson gave this 10 minute talk in 2011 at a TEDxWomen conference organized by the Paley Center. While the talk is aimed at women, the messages within it are applicable to all older adults. “This is the time to get started on stuff. It’s not the end.”

Arts Education & Adult Learning

Arts education is yet another form of adult learning, offering the opportunity to gain mastery in a particular discipline while interacting with members of the learning group. In fact, arts education – or creative aging (see below) – is an important new approach to community-based learning for older adults that reflects the new scholarship on aging.

An Opportunity for Libraries

As the number of older adults grows across the country, affecting every community and every library, the libraries that are most strategic about identifying and responding to the work and retirement patterns and the learning interests of their older adult constituents will be those best positioned to become hubs for positive aging.

Further Reading:

Adams, S. (2011, November 7). The Prophet of the Coming Aging Boom. Forbes. Retrieved from
Encore Careers for the Rest of Us – Forbes. (n.d.). Forbes. Retrieved from
Freedman, M. (2007). Encore: finding work that matters in the second half of life. New York: PublicAffairs.
Greenhouse, S. (2013). Pushing back retirement, and not always for money. The New York Times. Retrieved from:
Hope K. Levy. (n.d.). There’s Always Hope: Positive Aging through Lifelong Learning. Retrieved May 11, 2013, from
MIT Human Resources | MIT Work-Life Center — Elders. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2013, from
The Urban Institute | Five Questions for Richard W. Johnson. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2013, from

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Impediments to Positive Aging