updated 3/9/2005 3:51:31 PM ET 2005-03-09T20:51:31

After decades working in financial and real estate management, 61-year-old Bill Copeland retired to his version of the American dream — not full-time leisure but a less-taxing job.

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He’s hardly alone. Close to two-thirds of Americans who have not yet retired say that when the time comes they will work for pay after retiring. The reason given most often has nothing to do with money — they simply want to stay busy.

For Copeland, after years of 60- and 80-hour work weeks, that means “only” 40 hours a week at a job selling power tools and advising people on how to use them.

“I’m doing something I want to do, that I know about and I can help people,” said Copeland, who works in Falls Church, Va., at a Home Depot, a company that makes a special effort to attract older workers.

The political debate on the future of Social Security has focused fresh attention on retirement and how older Americans make ends meet. As they live longer, healthier lives, work is an option for an increasing number.

In a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll, 63 percent of those who have not retired said they thought they would work for pay after they retired. The reason given most often was “to stay busy,” followed by “to make ends meet” and “to have enough money for extras.”

People find various ways to stay in the work force — working past retirement age, cutting back to part-time, or retiring and then taking a new job — often with less stress, fewer hours and less money.

Joseph Quinn, a professor of economics and dean of the college of arts and sciences at Boston College, has extensively studied retirement patterns and believes people “tend to retire in stages, which I think is a healthy thing.”

“For many people, retirement is not an event but a process,” he said.

Dennis Bardy, a 47-year-old high school teacher from Richmond, Ind., reflects the views of many who plan to keep working.

“It would be nice to have a little bit of extra money,” he said, adding he also wants to “to stay active. Too many times, you see people who become retired just seeming to fade away.”

An ongoing Rand Corp. study of retirees has found that about half who retired, were still retired after five years. About a quarter had gone back to work — either part time or full time. The remainder either partially retired and kept working or retired in stages — first partially and then completely.

Nicole Maestas, an economist who led the “unretirement” study for Rand, found men were more likely than women to retire and then go back to work.

Her research was done with data from the Health and Retirement Study, done by the University of Michigan in cooperation with the National Institute on Aging.

Interest in working longer is related to many factors, researchers say. Some of it has to do with people living longer. The life expectancy for people now is just under 78 years, an increase of almost a decade in the last 50 years.

“I won’t retire until I can no longer teach,” said Tammy Sweat, 50, a teacher from Jacksonville, Ark. “That’s what God called me to do.”

Other factors include the expansion of work with fewer physical demands, reductions in the value of investment and retirement nest eggs and a reduction in the flow of new workers.

Recent retirees are being encouraged back to work in areas like retail, service and health care.

For some workers, retirement is not an option.

“I don’t see myself ever retiring,” said Joe McDonough, a 35-year-old Worcester, Mass, resident in the construction business. “I don’t make enough to put money away. What am I going to do about it?”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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