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Why Millennials May Never Retire

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind
Daily Ticker

It seems that, every few weeks, a new study or article comes out citing a rise in the average age of retirement. Hard economic times and longer lifespans make the idea of full retirement seem like wishful thinking for people across generations.

For millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, retirement may never be a viable option. The generation that came of age in the tech boom of the 1990s but graduated from college into one of the worst recessions our nation has ever seen is behind financially.

The median debt for a student upon graduation is now $23,000, and more than 7 million college grads are currently estimated to be in default. Eighteen percent of college students are unable to find jobs after graduation. These are crucial setbacks at the beginning of a career and may be impossible to recover from. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that those who graduate into a recession earn 10% less over a decade of work. Research also shows that 70% of overall wage growth occurs in the first 10 years of a career.

Related: Why Millennials Will Never Be Happy

A study by Nerd Wallet finds that college-educated millennials won’t be able to retire until 73, 12 years later than the current average retirement age of 61. According to Personal Capital, millennials will need to save $1.6 million to retire by 65.

“The economy has changed everything at its greatest level,” says Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success. “A lot of the jobs that exist today won’t even exist in five to ten years. People now have to be self-sufficient and accountable for their careers and have multiple streams of income or career-diversification. They can no longer rely on employers.”

Millennials don't necessarily have the option of climbing the corporate ladder until they reach a traditional retirement age. Fifty percent of them don’t even expect to receive Social Security checks in their old age.

Related: Good News For Millennials: A Big Company Might Actually Hire You

“The big trend is that the economy has changed the typical career path,” says Schawbel. “People no longer expect Social Security, or even to retire.”

According to Intuit, more than 40% of the American workforce will be freelancers, contractors or temp workers by 2020.

“It’s becoming easier to start a business or do consulting work because of opportunities online,” says Schawbel. “With this comes custom career paths with part-time work, multiple clients and jobs.”

Related: Millennials Are Changing the Rules of Investing

Millennials also seek passion and meaning in the workplace, and they may not see a career as something they even want to retire from. “This is a generation that’s thinking about all the basic tenets of work, their career and leadership, in such different ways,” says Anne Hubert, senior vice president at Scratch Media, a division of Viacom focused on understanding the millennial mindset.

“They’re thinking about finding their life’s work, their calling," she says. "Eighty-four percent of them believe they’re going to get where they want to in life. So when you’ve organized your career around finding your life’s work, I think the idea of retirement is a totally different thing.

"The whole idea of retirement as this light at the end of the tunnel, well, if you haven’t thought of your career as a tunnel, where are you really heading?”

Hubert claims that millennials will change the paradigm of retirement altogether.

Whether it's because of passion, the economy or a combination of the two, the idea of a typical retirement may soon be extinct.

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