Cover Story

Gerontology and aging expert Judith Sugar, PhD, sees the aging of the baby boomer generation as possibly resulting in a new form of brain drain--the term often used to describe talented minds taking jobs elsewhere. She notes that the boomer generation has more than 70 million people--one-fourth of the American population--but the next generation has barely more than half that number.

Therefore, retirees are "a pool of talent and abilities that we as a society can't afford to lose," says Sugar. To ease the drain, she posits that societal institutions--including those in psychology--find ways to keep that population contributing through volunteer, consulting or part-time opportunities.

Indeed, a concern about a large portion of psychology's talent possibly going to waste was a driving force behind a recent survey on retirement concerns and status conducted by APA President Diane F. Halpern's Presidential Task Force on Retiring Psychologists--with the help of APA's Research Office--of 745 APA members who are near or at retirement age. The largest age bracket of APA's membership is 55- to 59-year-olds.

"This is the crest of the baby boom," says Halpern. "We want to ask questions early because we should be planning and preparing for this wave."

The survey revealed that APA's retiring psychologists' talent is waiting to be tapped: Most psychologists who responded aren't interested in a traditional retirement. They want to keep their skills in use through mentoring, part-time or consulting jobs or volunteer positions. In fact, more than 52 percent of retired psychologists who participated in the survey are already volunteering their time--more than half of those in areas related to psychology (see box below).

Passion for the field

In addition, the survey found that 22 percent of retired respondents have continued their research or service in psychology. And of those who have not yet retired, 61 percent say they plan to volunteer during their retirement, two-thirds of those in areas related to psychology.

Unfortunately, there may not be enough volunteer, part-time and mentoring opportunities within psychology to meet the rising demand from retirees, says Halpern. This is why the task force is now working to educate other APA groups about the need for such postretirement mentoring or consulting opportunities and the availability of talent. She hopes to lay the foundation for an Internet database of psychology-related opportunities retirees can tap.

Survey participants also revealed a great love of their chosen profession: 90 percent of those surveyed regard their role of psychologist as extremely important to their identity. This is further evidence, Sugar points out, that more outlets for their skills are needed.

"These are people who are very capable and interested in carrying forward with big initiatives," often unencumbered by time-consuming staff meetings and practice or research demands, adds Sugar, a member of Halpern's task force and an associate professor in the department of health ecology at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The task force, which is chaired bye Robert L. Johnson, PhD, is planning a follow-up survey to pinpoint the types of postretirement opportunities retirees seek, with questions on, for example, the types of mentoring they could offer and whether they would consider global aid or disaster-relief work, Sugar says.

In addition, the task force plans to look more closely at barriers to postretirement work, she says, such as some states' licensure laws that restrict part-time or occasional clinical and consulting work.

Wanted: more resources

Retiring psychologists also reported a need for more information on coping with their aging and cognitive decline, a want that did not surprise Sugar.

"Psychologists have paid attention to our clients' aging," notes Sugar, "but not necessarily to our own."

As evidence, when asked, "What can APA do for you?" participants called for more retirement-focused convention sessions on such topics as closing a practice or a lab, negotiating retirement with a college or university, and planning for a financially secure retirement. In fact, the survey showed that 59 percent of respondents were hesitant to retire for financial reasons, and 25 percent worried about losing their health insurance, noted Halpern.

"Retiring psychologists want and need services and information, and we need to really prepare for this new model of retirement," she says. "There are large numbers of retiring psychologists who are going through retirement differently. Any model we had in the past is not likely going to be the one for the future."

Survey says

According to the Task Force on Retiring Psychologists survey of 745 APA members near or at retirement age:

  • 52 percent of retired psychologists are volunteers--more than half of them in areas related to psychology.
  • 64 percent of psychologists who plan to retire expect to continue working part-time as psychologists.
  • 61 percent plan to volunteer during their retirement, two-thirds of those in areas related to psychology.
  • 90 percent regard their role of psychologists as important to their identity.
  • 59 percent were hesitant to retire for financial reasons.
  • Retiring psychologists want to know how to stay informed about psychology after retirement, as well as information on volunteering, part-time jobs and aging.