CAMBRIDGE, MA. Forty-five years ago 834 young people (819 men and 15 women) received their bachelor of science degrees from MIT. As one of them, I have wondered ever since how we would do in life, how we would measure our success or failure, and what would turn out to be truly important.
Now I know. I’d like to share it with you.
Today we are typically 65 to 67 years old. I have the answer to some of the questions because I had an opportunity to survey my classmates. I asked 20 questions. Nearly 150 classmates responded.
A whopping 54 percent are still working. Half of those intend to work “as long as possible.” This is more than 4 times the average of 12.6 percent of all 65 year olds in the United States still working and nearly 10 times the 5.8 percent of Canadians or Australians the same age.
Some are now uncertain about the definition of work since it is increasingly done for the challenge rather than the money. Nearly 80 percent of those who have retired did it just before, or just after, turning age 62. Clearly, there are people who retire early and people who simply don’t.
Contrary to popular tech mythology, most have worked at large for-profit companies or large non-profit institutions. Only about one in five has worked at a start-up. One powerful indication is that nearly 60 percent have, or will have, a defined benefit pension at retirement.
Having a good education created options for working and eventually made work a choice that had to do with personal satisfaction first, money second.
Career Satisfaction, Earnings, and Net Worth
An impressive two-thirds were very satisfied with their careers. A whopping 95 percent were at least “pretty happy.” Only 5 percent were disappointed. The same proportions were reported as ratings of their financial life--- only 5 percent were disappointed or worried.
Three of every four had started working with a salary of at least $6,000, and the most common highest salary range achieved was $100,000 to $200,000. A full third of all graduates earned at least $200,000 a year.
Net worth followed from income. Only 7 percent said they were in the bottom 50 percent of all households for net worth (less than $230,000 at age 65). An impressive two-thirds were in the top 10 percent, with a net worth of $1.5 million or more.
It isn’t necessary to have gobs of money, but having a generous income is better than having a slender one.
Health and Life Expectancy
A stunning four-fifths considered themselves to be in “above average” health, while less than 8 percent indicated any medical problems. Nearly 60 percent thought they would live 15 to 25 more years, mostly healthy. But a quarter expected to live less than 15 years. Nine out of ten paid some attention to their health, diet and fitness.
Personal attention won’t ward off all illness, but it can delay or minimize the impact of the maladies that come our way. Taking our health as a personal responsibility is smart.
Satisfaction with Life
One in four characterized their personal life with the statement, “I am thankful every day! Looking back, even the less than wonderful periods were great.” An amazing 95 percent said they were at least “pretty happy.” Only 5 percent expressed regret over things that had happened.
Full participation in the disasters of life
In spite of all these positive responses, members of the class of 62’ had had lots of things go wrong in life:
- 43 percent had been through a divorce
- 32 percent had been through a downsizing
- 22 percent had had a major illness
- 18 percent had been through a long period of unemployment
- 14 percent had been through substance abuse by self or family member(s)
- 12 percent had been through the death of a spouse
- 5 percent had been through the death of a child
- 4 percent had lived with disability
- 6 percent had been through at least 2 of the above events
No one has a “perfect” life. The best response to disaster or disappointment is to accept it and adapt.
Children and grandchildren
The most common number of children was two, but 13 percent reported more than four. Nearly 30 percent had no grandchildren as yet.
But of those who did have grandchildren, 62 percent agreed that “they are a major source of joy.”
When push comes to shove, the major sustenance in life comes from very simple things.
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Scott Burns is the retired Chief Investment Officer of AssetBuilder, the creator of Couch Potato investing, and a personal finance columnist with decades of experience.