What’s Your Definition of Retirement?

by on November 5, 2010

What’s Your Definition of Retirement?


What’s your opinion of retirement? Is it a time to which you are looking forward?  Is it a word that fills you with dread and concern?   How does retirement fit into the plans you have for your life?

If you want to prompt emotional responses from those 45 years of age or older, all you need to do is mention the word retirement.  Some will declare they will never retire.  Others will sadly indicate they will never be able to retire because of their economic situation.   For still others, they have a plan mapped out that allows them to live a lifestyle they have always envisioned for themselves.

Recently, I was privileged to be part of a Global Conversation on “Aging – Increased Lifespan and How Long We Will Work” at the International Coaches Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.  While the conversation focused on many aspects of the current workforce and how today’s baby boomers can and will be a part of it on an ongoing basis if they so wish, one aspect of the discussion that intrigued me is that concepts of what retirement is have been handed down to us from previous generations.  It is these beliefs that cause a great deal of the emotional outpouring today, and which likely will evolve into new norms as we continue through the 21st century.

The current concept of retirement was actually created in Germany in 1889 by chancellor Otto von Bismarck.  Bismarck created a plan that allowed civil servants to retire with a small pension once they reached 70 years of age.  In the late 1800’s life expectancies went to 46 years old.  As such, not many people collected on the pension plan.   Even as time moved forward and retirement ages were lowered to 65, and even in the United States as first private pension plans and then Social Security was put into place, life expectancies only lasted until 63 years old.

When taken against the realities of today, the historical concepts of retirement don’t stand up.  An average 65 year old today, has a life expectancy to 83 years of age.  It is expected that many of the Baby Boomers reaching 50 years old this year will live to be 100.  Pension plans are becoming less a way of life in private industry.  Social Security becomes funded by less and less active workers for the growing group of age eligible recipients each year.

Images of historical retirement are also being challenged.  Many of those images have the retiree living a non-active lifestyle.  Today’s individuals reaching what has been known as traditional retirement age continue to work, volunteer in many organizations, go back to school to increase their knowledge or start on ventures which are completely different than their first career.   Additionally, with longer life cycles people from age 50 and beyond often go through multiple iterations in terms of how they go about their life.

Is traditional retirement dead?  Not necessarily.  If one possesses the resources, the time and the inclination to enjoy their years after working with leisure time and recreational activities, that’s great.  It’s all about choice.  However, that same range of choice also allows one to continue to work at whatever they want for as long as they want.  It allows for a change in lifestyle, a combination of activities to be enjoyed at a pace that is comfortable to those reaching this period of their life.

So, should we be using the word “retirement” any more to describe that phase of life after one has left a long time first career?  Is there another term that should be used to describe this period of one’s life?  Do descriptions themselves even matter?   The important thing to remember that whether one uses the word retirement to describe when they move into this phase of their life or not, it’s the way they choose to spend their time and energies that are important, and not what it is called.  What are your thoughts?

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