As a football fan, I watched several of the postseason games during the holiday season.
While the BCS national title game between Alabama and Texas grabbed most of the attention, I was more interested in the fates of the teams of octogenarians Bobby Bowden of Florida State and Joe Paterno of Penn State. I wanted these old men to whip their much younger peers, and they did. FSU beat West Virginia, 33-21, and Penn State defeated LSU, 19-17.
Watching Bowden and Paterno calling plays and vigorously working the sidelines, I was reminded of the old saw that you're never too old to feel young. I also was reminded that the nation had better get ready for a crush of old-timers, especially we baby boomers, to play increasingly important roles in our workplaces and other areas of American life.
One number alone is significant. Recent census data show that more Americans 65 and older are in the job market than ever before, 6.6 million. That compares to 4.1 million in 2001. Many retirees seek work because of the recession. Others saw their pensions eroded when employers stopped paying, and still others lost heavily in the stock market.
Whatever the reasons, many older people want to work.
If employers do not know already, they soon will have to understand that they are dealing with workers who expect to live longer and not only want to work longer but want to continue to feel dignified about what they are doing.
These are encouraging trends all around. Individuals who can work longer can help subsidize their own retirements. As a group, they help ease the burden on everyone else to pay for services — including health care, recreation, highway building and housing — by continuing to pay taxes. As more people of retirement age and beyond are permitted to work, the so-called "dependency ratio" becomes less daunting.
All of us, especially government officials and business leaders, need to face a few new realities about our aging population. More people are in better health, for example, than at any other time in history. For them, retirement is not one-size-fits-all.
"Some have retired from full-time, year-round employment but continue to work part-time either to pursue other work-related interests or supplement their income from savings and Social Security," according to a Census Bureau report. "Others do not retire and continue to work full-time, year-round due to a lack of desire to retire or inadequate retirement savings."
Today, we rarely hear anyone use the term "golden years," the decade or so that people idly lived beyond retirement. Since the 1960s, that decade or so now can last up to 30 years.
During a recent National Public Radio interview, Marc Freedman, who wrote a history of the Del Webb Sun City retirement phenomenon, said we no longer have a ready name for people over 60: "They're neither young nor old. They're neither in midlife nor in traditional retirement. As a result, it's forcing retirement communities to provide an array of products for people over 60."
In everyday life, according to a Pew Research Center study, healthier older people who remain active and working are aging better. On average, they have more mental acuity, more physical dexterity and, not surprisingly, more sex. They are more apt to be able to safely drive much longer than their less-active peers. This is no small matter, because driving is the one activity that can prolong dignity or cause humiliation.
Finally, I turn to another of my heroes, Clint Eastwood, who continues to act and direct films as well any younger person in Hollywood. Eastwood, who directed the blockbuster film Invictus, turns 80 in May. He cannot imagine himself retiring.
When asked about retirement, this is what Dirty Harry told AARP Magazine writer David Hochman: "The reason I don't retire is that I learn something new every day. It is about expanding, constantly pushing yourself."
I agree, of course. Life after 60, 65 or 80, does not have to be the end point. It can be a time to discover new things about the world around you and about yourself.