The Social “Shift” in Retirement

As we mature past our main careers into our retirement years, our social connections shift towards more time with family and friends versus work colleagues. While this isn’t a surprise, maintaining meaningful social connections is on the minds of retirees as evidenced by findings in the 2020 Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey of Retirees where, when asked about their greatest fears in retirement, the “social” category ranked 3rd after concerns about finances and health. This shift towards family and friends is further supported in the same study with a related question as to the important criteria in choosing a place to live in retirement. Number one was being near family and friends (61%) while cost of living was second (55%).

Having meaningful social connections in retirement not only adds to our fun and support system, but it can also strengthen our sense of purpose, improve our health habits, and even create work opportunities.


According to a recent 2022 study published in Science Daily, positive social interactions are associated with a sense of purpose:

“Having positive social interactions is associated with older adults' sense of purposefulness, which can fluctuate from day to day, according to research from the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis”

For me, the keyword phrase from this study was “positive interactions”. For many, time spent with grandkids and family is a very positive interaction.  However, not every retiree lives near enough to their children or grandchildren. And, once grandkids start attending school full time, the time with them decreases. While it is unreasonable to expect to replace the satisfaction one may experience from spending time with their grandkids, building/maintaining strong social networks beyond family can provide a healthy and balanced sense of purposefulness. One can support a meaningful mix of social interactions via reconnecting with old friends, making new friends and engaging with members of younger generations in an activity of mutual interest.


Playing your favorite sport with others is a great way to get some exercise and create stronger friendships. I am an avid biker for over 40 years and during the past 2-3 years started to play pickleball regularly. Did you know that pickleball is one of the hottest sports in the United States? Here are some statistics from the “2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) Single Sport Report on Pickleball”, referenced on the USA Pickleball Website, that you may find interesting. As of 2022:

·     There are 4.8 million players in the US and the growth rate in participants is 11.5% over the past 5 years

·     The highest % of Core players (those playing 8+ times a year) fall into the 65+ age group

Being a Core player, per this definition, I have benefited from more than the physical sport itself. I share time with my doubles partner (my wife), have developed new relationships with many people of all different ages and have reconnected with some old friends.  A few have become role models on aging for me – as they share their secret of committing to health via a life of “moving” and participating in physical activities.   This manifests itself in their attitude about aging and their abilities to continue to perform at a strong level into their 70s and 80s! Oh yes, they are social connectors too – having taken the lead on establishing “pickleball times” weekly.  

It’s never too late to start a new activity provided you are physically able to do so – go at your pace and experience something new.

Whatever your “physical activity” – finding partners to experience it with can improve both your social and physical well-being.


For many, social connections are largely tied to work.  And, as mentioned above, this starts to shift away from work towards family and friends when we retire.  However, we may choose to maintain our key social connections from our full-time work lives as we transition to retirement, especially if pursuing some kind of work in retirement is important to us.  

Building a strong social network before you leave your main career is ideal.  However, regardless of when you do so, here are some simple tips for maintaining your work network:

  1. Create an “A list” of the people with whom you want to stay in touch. These are ideally colleagues who have had a positive impact on you.
  2. Reach out to them to arrange lunch or a cup of coffee. (I prefer this over lengthy emails and/or phone calls).
  3. When you meet – it’s important to be authentic. These are your “A list" from your work life and you may both wish to maintain these relationships for a long time.  Consider exploring how you might help each with your personal goals and interests.  
  4. Create a rhythm as to how you will stay connected. Set a time frame for future touchpoints.

At the same time, focus on creating a fresh network to add balance to your social circles, experience new activities, make new friends, and yes, uncover work possibilities.  Here are some ideas to pursue:

  • Join a club or organization that piques your interest.
  • Consider volunteering.
  • Look at non-profits in your area and see if the skills you have complement what they need. Try volunteering and/or gathering information about the non-profit to determine if it’s for you.
  • Invite an old friend for a cup of coffee. You may be surprised how old connections become “fresh” again.

Meaningful social connections and “positive interactions” can be very beneficial in your retirement life. What you want relating to your social needs is possible – take action to make it happen!

Related: Have You Asked Yourself This Question About Your Retirement?