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Why Baby Boomers Will Need to Work Longer

McKinsey Most US baby boomers are not prepared for their retirement, and neither are the US and world economies. Boomers can help mitigate the consequences by remaining in the workforce beyond the traditional retirement age.


The twilight of the US baby boom generation is approaching, and with it deep, structural economic shifts whose impact will be felt for decades to come.1New research from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) shows that there is only one realistic way to prevent aging boomers from experiencing a significant decline in their living standards and becoming a multidecade drag on US and world economic growth. Boomers will have to continue working beyond the traditional retirement age, and that will require important changes in public policy, business practices, and personal behavior. These adjustments have become even more urgent with the recent financial turmoil, which has sharply reduced the home values and financial investments of millions of boomers just as they approach retirement.


Underlying the need for change is a reversal of trends that have been in operation since the 1960s. For decades, boomers swelled the ranks of the US labor force, driving up economic output as they earned and consumed more than any other generation in history. Now, as the boomers age and retire, US labor force participation rates are declining. Without an unexpected burst of productivity growth or a significant upsurge in investment per worker, the aging boomers' reduced levels of working and spending will slow the real growth of the US GDP from an average of 3.2 percent a year since 1965 to about 2.4 percent over the next three decades. That long-term growth rate is 25 percent lower than the one the United States and the world have long taken for granted.


MGI research highlights a further problem: two-thirds of the oldest boomers are financially unprepared for retirement, and many are not even aware of their predicament.2 This lack of sufficient resources will not only mean a less comfortable retirement for tens of millions of households but also depress spending in the overall economy.


Yet the boomers' retirement need not be such a major dislocation. We estimate that a two-year increase in the median retirement age over the next decade would add almost $13 trillion to real US GDP during the next 30 years while cutting roughly in half the number of boomers who would be financially unprepared for retirement.


Yet the boomers' retirement need not be such a major dislocation. We estimate that a two-year increase in the median retirement age over the next decade would add almost $13 trillion to real US GDP during the next 30 years while cutting roughly in half the number of boomers who would be financially unprepared for retirement.


  • To read the full article on The McKinsey Quarterly, click here »
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