When you think about the quintessential retirement, what do you think of? 

Maybe it's fishing, or traveling, or finally picking up French. Whatever your image of it is, "retirement" is a word that traditionally is not at all associated with work. 

But this idea is slowly changing -- according to a Merrill Lynch survey, over 70% of pre-retirees over 50 want to keep working after they retire. And it shows: 40% of people over 55 are working, and that age group has accounted for most of the workforce growth in the past seven years.

Of course, you're thinking: "Wow, that is sad. The financial crisis hit, and now all of a sudden all these people can't retire." And I'm sure that is partly true. No need to put lipstick on a pig: A lot of people were hit hard in 2008 and have had to make the best of it since. 

At the same time, it seems as if some retirees are actually choosing to stay in the workforce for reasons beyond needing the income. 

Why would anyone do that?
In fact, 83% of surveyed retirees agreed that work helps you stay young. And truth be told, a leisurely retirement is a pretty modern invention. Back in 1900, the average retirement age was 76, and it only dipped under 70 in the 1960s.

With lifespans lengthening, a 20- or 30-year stretch of doing nothing really could not only be financially challenging, but it might also just be a lot of people's idea of boring. After all, say what you will about your job today, but in the absence of an alternative, a life without work could also become a life without purpose and social contribution. 

As it happens, people work in retirement for any number of reasons. Aside from increased income, the survey found that the most popular reasons include: 

  • Staying mentally active.
  • Staying physically active.
  • Keeping health insurance benefits.
  • Maintaining social connections.
  • Maintaining a sense of identity and self-worth.
  • Seeking new challenges.

It seems to be working; the survey found that retirees who continue to work feel prouder, more connected to others, and more stimulated than their non-working counterparts.

So what do retirees do? 
Working in retirement doesn't have to mean keeping your old job or doing something you dislike. Directing your own destiny is a major theme. Retirees are three times more likely to start their own business or work for themselves than pre-retirees are, and 82% of those who start a business do so to work on their own terms.

But that kind of flexibility could take many forms: It could involve a new, less stressful line of work, giving back to the community, or a part-time job. Having more freedom to choose leads post-retirement workers to find their jobs less stressful, more fun and fulfilling, and way less boring than their earlier work.

Is it for me?
Of course, whether working in retirement makes sense is up to you. Financial constraints have hit many pre-retirees (not to mention everyone else), which could make the question very easy to answer. 

On the other hand, the point is that maybe there's a silver lining. Maybe now is the time to explore teaching, or consulting, or that ship-in-a-bottle hobby business you always wanted to develop. In that regard, working in retirement could be a hardship (and still probably is for a lot of people), or it could be a way to stay more youthful, engaged, and active into your golden years.