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'Work 'Til You Drop' May Have Been a Myth for Boomer Retirees

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Conventional wisdom has it that baby boomers took it on the chin so hard from the Great Recession that they would have to postpone their retirements -- or, worse, never retire at all.

But a survey from New York City-based MetLife (MET - Get Report) refutes that, saying boomers are retiring in fairly healthy numbers by age 67.

The study, Healthy, Retiring Rapidly and Collecting Social Security, provides the following facts going against the grain of popular perception about retirement:
  • More than half (52%) of the oldest boomers and their spouses have fully retired, up from 19% in 2007 and 45% in 2011.
  • 86% of the oldest boomers are collecting Social Security benefits. Of those, 43% started collecting earlier than expected.
  • Most are now empty nesters, but 13% care for parents or relatives.
  • The majority (82%) rate their health as good to excellent. They won't view themselves as "old" until they reach the average age of 78.5.
  • More than half of the oldest boomers feel their generation is leaving a positive legacy for future generations.

MetLife reports that 17% of the 52% of retired boomers said they had to retire for health reasons. Another 10% said they were forced into retirement by a job loss. But 38% said they retired at age 67 because, well, they were ready.

Apparently, even if those retirees didn't save all the money they wanted, they're living fairly comfortably. A clear majority of retirees surveyed told Metlife they did have a lower income in retirement, but that lower income hasn't tarnished their golden years (so far, at least.)

All in all, the study paints a somewhat rosy picture, which may come as a surprise to economists and financial pundits who figured retirees faced dire straits since the Great Recession.

"As the oldest boomers dive into retirement, even though some have been forced to do so earlier than expected, they seem to be 'Feelin' Groovy,' as this group would have said during their formative years," says Sandra Timmermann, a director at the MetLife Mature Market Institute. "They are poised to remain active and engaged. As their nests empty they seem to be largely feeling healthy and positive."

The outlook isn't entirely rosy.

"On the negative side, a good half of this group may not have achieved their retirement savings goals and are not confident about paying for the next phase of their lives," Timmermann says.

That group includes 43% of boomers getting Social Security benefits who took those benefits earlier than they wanted.

But the larger picture on baby boomers and retirement is an optimistic one. For tens of millions of boomers heading toward retirement, that may be the best news they hear all week.

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