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The Oldest Baby Boomers Launch Their Retirement

Emily Brandon

Baby boomers often say they are going to work past traditional retirement age, but just over half of the oldest baby boomers have already retired. A recent survey of 1,003 people born in 1946 found that 52 percent consider themselves to be retired, up from 45 percent in 2011 and 19 percent in 2007.

[Read: The Baby Boomer Retirement Crunch Begins.]

Only 21 percent of 1946-born boomers are still working full time, and another 12 percent are working part time or seasonally. Only a few of the oldest baby boomers, who are turning 67 in 2013, are employed part time (2 percent), self-employed (4 percent) or looking for work (1 percent), according to the GfK Custom Research North America poll, which was commissioned by the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

The oldest baby boomers often ended up retiring young. The average age of retirement among those already retired is 59.5, MetLife found. Many of the oldest baby boomers (18 percent) retired at age 62, the earliest possible age at which one can begin collecting Social Security benefits. Another 19 percent retired at age 65, when Medicare eligibility begins. Far smaller proportions of boomers retired at ages 63 (9 percent) and 64 (5 percent). And 22 percent of 1946-born boomers retired at age 55 or younger, far before they qualified for any entitlements or could even make retirement account withdrawals without incurring the early withdrawal penalty.

[Read: 12 Ways to Increase Your Social Security Payments.]

The majority of the oldest boomers are already collecting Social Security. The boomers in the survey signed up at an average age of 63.6. Many 67-year-old boomers (39 percent) claimed benefits as soon as they could at age 62, even though their monthly payments were reduced by 25 percent because they signed up at this age. Other popular start dates were age 65 (20 percent) and age 66 (23 percent), the latter of which is when the oldest baby boomers are first eligible for unreduced Social Security payments. Ages 63 and 64 were less popular claiming ages, with only 7 percent and 5 percent of boomers claiming then, respectively. Many baby boomers (43 percent) say they started their Social Security payments earlier than they wanted to, while 47 percent say they collected at the age they originally planned to.

The retired boomers report that they left the workforce primarily because they reached retirement age and wanted to retire (38 percent) or were tired of working (11 percent). Many boomers were also forced into retirement by a health problem (17 percent) or layoff (10 percent). Only 4 percent of those surveyed say the primary reason they retired was because they had enough money and could afford to.

[Read: 10 Ways Baby Boomers Will Reinvent Retirement.]

More than half (54 percent) of retired baby boomers left the workforce earlier than they originally planned to, often citing health problems and job loss. Only 8 percent of retired boomers left their jobs later than they expected to. Those who delayed retirement generally did so because they needed the money (30 percent) or enjoyed their job and wanted to stay active (26 percent).

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