Lindgren has run her career-counseling firm since 1985, but only in the last five years has she noticed an uptick of (mostly thirtysomething) children calling on behalf of their parents. “The questions might be because their parents got laid off,” she said. “More frequently, these days, it's related to a divorce.”
Indeed, for Baby Boomers, increased rates of divorce are making for more penurious retirements, especially for women. Based on today’s gender-based disparities in pay, a woman who worked full-time over a period of 40 years would make roughly $430,480 less than a man working for that same period—meaning a woman would have to work nearly 11 years longer than a man to reach pay parity, according to the National Women’s Law Center, a nonprofit. And one study found that, after the recession, among all unemployed Americans, women over 50 were the group most likely to be unemployed for extended periods of time. (Men above 50 were not far behind.)
Joyce Russell, the senior associate dean of learning at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, says she is often asked by students how their parents should best maneuver through the current job climate. One MBA student, for example, asked Russell for advice on how her mom should approach seeking a promotion in her organization. “I've had [students] tell me, ‘Okay, so I'm trying to educate my parents on negotiating their offer,’ whether that's the pay, or just job scope, responsibility, time off,” Russell says.
Russell says that one of the biggest obstacles that many over-50 job-seekers must confront is ageism. “I think it's coming really from an old belief that people are going to be retiring soon, so why would you hire somebody who’s over 50 if you can hire someone who's 40?” Russell asked. “But that's really a fallacy, because there's research that shows older workers are highly dependable. They don't have as much absenteeism and sick days, and [they have] stronger loyalty.”
However, for some Baby Boomers (mostly those with sturdy financial foundations), an uncertain professional future can be liberating. A lack of obligations sometimes leads to what is often called an “encore career”—a more meaningful job, usually with more flexibility. Take, for example, that lawyer-turned-educator from before. Or a woman like Eileen Bergman, who, after being laid off from her corporate job in 2012, found herself at a crossroads. “When I lost my job, the world started kind of turning upside-down for me as far as possibilities,” she says.
Two years and a few jobs later, Eileen developed a case of vertigo that made working difficult for her. While recovering at home, she read an article in AARP’s magazine about professional organizers, and was inspired to become one herself. But where to start? “I said to my son, Jason, ‘I need to put together a marketing plan. I have to put together a website,’” Eileen says. “And I need photos." At the time, Jason was a 26-year-old freelance photographer, well-versed, like many Millennials, in the ways of self-employment. And so, their partnership began: Jason got Eileen her own website; she wrote the copy; he designed the page; she wanted a company email address; he set one up, and planned a photoshoot for the website.