The relevance of Innovation Theory of Successful Aging for baby boomers transitioning to retirement

Genoe, Rebecca; Liechty, Toni and Marston, Hannah (2017). The relevance of Innovation Theory of Successful Aging for baby boomers transitioning to retirement. In: Canadian Congress on Leisure Research 15: Engaging legacies (CCLR15), 23-26 May 2017, University of Waterloo, ON, Canada.



Several theories of aging (e.g., activity theory, continuity theory) have guided leisure and aging research over the past several decades. Most of these theories originated in the fields of psychology or sociology and have been applied by leisure scholars. Recently, Innovation Theory of Successful Aging was postulated to specifically explore leisure in retirement (Nimrod & Kleiber, 2007). Unlike previous theories which suggest that older adults either maintain similar leisure patterns or cease participation, innovation theory indicates that older adults seek out new leisure opportunities in later life in order to reinvent or preserve a sense of self (Nimrod, 2008). Similarly, it suggests that adopting new leisure activities in retirement can promote personal growth in later life. However, Nimrod and Kleiber suggest that because the theory is at “a formative stage,” (p. 18) additional research is necessary to refine it. Therefore, in this presentation, we will explore the relevance of Innovation Theory for Canadian baby boomers transitioning to retirement. We utilized a multi-author blog to understand baby boomers’ experiences of leisure as they transitioned to retirement. Participants included twenty-five adults who were planning to retire within five years or who had recently retired. Participants blogged about leisure and retirement for three two-week sessions over several months, followed by in-person focus groups, which were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim. While participants were invited to write about topics of their choosing, guiding questions were provided as a starting point for discussion. Questions included: What did you do with your free time today? Were any of these activities new? What do these activities mean to you? Data were analyzed following Charmaz’s (2014) initial, focused, and selective coding. Participants valued leisure throughout the retirement transition as it helped them embrace the challenges and joys of this new life phase. Pre-retirement participants viewed leisure as an escape from work related stress and looked forward to increased free time to pursue both new and long-held interests. Retirees had more time to invest in pursuit of lifelong activities and discovering new activities that upheld lifelong values (e.g., a participant who valued physical activity took up crossfit). Along with pursuing new and former leisure, participants described both developing new social relationships and rekindling old ones. A minority of participants struggled to identify meaningful opportunities to replace feelings of accomplishment found in the workplace. The findings indicate that innovation theory may be relevant in explaining leisure engagement amongst baby boomers transitioning to retirement. Participants pursued activities that were meaningful and contributed to a sense of well-being in retirement such as personal growth, health and well-being, and time with loved ones. Thus, their leisure choices contributed to both self-reinvention innovation and self-preservation innovation (Nimrod & Hutchinson, 2010; Nimrod & Kleiber, 2007). Research suggests that baby boomers are markedly different from previous generations and may have more inclination to adopt new leisure activities in later life (Pruchno, 2012). Additional research is needed to explore leisure innovation beyond the initial transition as baby boomers begin to settle into retirement.

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