5 reasons why retirement is no longer ‘retire’-ment

Senior woman holding bunch of flowers. Isolated.

Image: Poznyakov/Bigstock.com 

The word ‘retirement’ doesn’t describe well what currently happens when a person finishes work. It’s now rarely a time when people ‘retire’— as in withdraw—from life.

The word ‘retire’ implies retiring from something. For instance: she retired from the stage (no longer performs as an actress); the cricketer retired, hurt (unable to play on); the businessman retired from his business.

Retirement doesn’t adequately describe the space/time/reality we currently retire to. And there are at least five reasons why what we call retirement has changed.

1. We’re living longer

Owen Weeks in a RetireNotes podcast tells of how, in the 1970s, many people reached 65 and retired—as in stopped work to potter or relax. But, back then, the word retirement fitted because, generally, they relaxed a few years and by 70 most had died.

In Australia, when the age pension was introduced in 1908, men could receive it at 65 years of age, and women at 60. However, the life expectancy then was only 52.2 years (males) and 58.8 years (females).

100 years later, in 2008, life expectancy had risen to 79.3 years (males) and 83.9 years (females). Currently, it’s in the mid-80s.

If you stop work at 65, 20-or-so years is a long time to withdraw from life. Most retirees refuse to do that.

2. Retirement is being redefined by retirees

While linked to point 1, retirees have taken it upon themselves to be creative in retirement. They’re doing meaningful things. They have more purpose in their retired life than previous generations.

Not everyone is doing this, but more are. And the retirement industry is catching on. They’re encouraging those approaching retirement to plan for a meaningful life in retirement. This is a positive trend.

3. Work is increasingly a part of retirement

‘The concept of retirement is changing from traditional to transitional,’ says Steve Cameron from Aegon. ‘As people enjoy longer life spans, they no longer yearn to down tools and start retirement in one fell swoop.’

In a survey he conducted in the UK, almost a third of workers aged 50 or more plan to work beyond retirement age. They want to ease into retirement by cutting back on work hours.

This is being called  pre-tirement.

Then there are those who stop work and, after a time, go back to it in some form. This tends to happen either because of finances or boredom.

4. What do you do? now has different answers

It used to be that if a retiree was asked, ‘What you do?’, ‘I’m retired’ was a reasonable answer. Now it’s a question about what you’re doing—as in what you’re really doing.

Now the answer is more like:

‘I love travelling and my next trip is . . .’

‘I’m passionate about my garden and right now . . .’

‘I’m working on a book that’s . . .’

Retirement is no longer a passive word, it’s now a doing word—it has become a verb.

5. Boomers still want to change the world

I was there and I can remember the 60s—or is it just my version of the 60s? People power began impacting on Western thinking. The world was changing. Dramatically. Most boomers experienced it in some form or other.

Singer Kevin Johnson (a boomer, best remembered for his song ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll, I gave you the best years of my life’) sings of being an activist back then in ‘Over the Hills and Far Away.’

He’s a hero to some, but opposed by those who have an ‘old man’s view of society.’ By song’s end, though, he’s older and still political, but, as the mayor of his city, he has to confront those with ‘a young man’s view of society.’

It may seem that as boomers have aged, they’ve simply fitted into various societal moulds. My suspicion is that there’s still an independent streak within that’s being seen in how they do their retirement.

The word ‘retirement’ may never change, but it’s important to note that its meaning has. Better still, we have the freedom to make our own definition by creating a retirement that’s custom made for us.

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of RetireNotes.com

Category: Ageing, Lifestyle, Planning, Purpose

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