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Exploring the pros and cons of the ‘Encore career’ – part of redefining retirement

by on May 1, 2014

The term ‘encore career’ crops up in the academic literature to define later life second careers (thus far, it’s been ascribed to the so-called Baby Boomer generation but presumably it’s something which subsequent age cohorts could pursue in time).

It’s interesting to see two items on this subject – one is this paper by Simpson and colleagues in the academic journal Work, Employment & Society and more recently the other here on US website Main Street – which both ask whether the encore career is necessarily a good thing.

New Zealand based Mary Simpson and her colleagues examine the concept of the encore career (defining it as a part of retirement ‘when individuals choose to use their wealth of experience to engage in work that matters and makes meaningful contributions to society’) against a background of the discourses of ‘active’ and ‘productive’ ageing, political imperatives that stress the importance of productive activities in later life. Interviewing older workers engaged in encore careers, and their managers, the authors report three different ways of viewing these careers:

  • instrumentally (a job) – as productive paths to material resources for older people and societies;
  • ideally (a dream) – as promising paths for older people to achieve self-actualization;
  • suspiciously (a trap) – as seductive paths for older people to take individual responsibility and absolve society from responsibility for their wellbeing.

The Main Street article also looks critically at the concept, asking whether the encore career is an opportunity to reshape the route to retirement or really just a new way of packaging spending the last years of one’s working life in the shadow of underemployment? As with the academic paper, the article concludes that there is a mix of experience with some older workers finding a fulfilling second career and others not. It concludes that this probably reflects whether the change is made voluntarily or is imposed by a job loss.

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