Retirement: A 20th Century Invention Past Its Expiration Date?

July 29, 2021

Retirement: A 20th Century Invention Past Its Expiration Date?

May 29, 2023

Retirement as a concept may be in the process of retiring. Take a look at this graph that shows how much retirement is mentioned in books from 1800 till the present. Prior to the 20th century, retirement was often something you did because your body couldn’t keep up anymore.

Look at this set of stats that come from Harold Koenig’s "Purpose and Power in Retirement," showing the % of men over 65 still working by year (they didn’t have stats for women long ago):

1880: 78%
1900: 65%
1920: 60%
1930: 58%
1940: 42%
1960: 31%
1980: 25%
2000: 16%
2020: 25%

Whether it’s by choice or necessity, people are starting to choose to stay in the workplace longer in the 21st century, and some of the old marketing campaigns promoting retirement as the "Golden Years" are falling flat. Author Neil Pasricha points out in "The Happiness Equation," The first inkling of such efforts (teaching people how to love retirement) were seen in 1951 when the Corning Corp had a roundtable discussion in which a national marketing campaign was proposed to educate people over 50 how to enjoy leisure. The strategy was to glamorize leisure and to make every older adult feel like they had "a right to it.” It worked, but it may not be working anymore.

Imagine retiring at 50 and living till 90. If we assume you got your first full-time job after college at age 22, you would have worked for 28 years before retiring. But, these 28 years of salary or wages represent less than 40% of the 72 years of adulthood you will have lived if you make it to your 9th decade before you die. It’s hard to finance 40 years of retirement with just 28 years of working.

In sum, this is why MEA is so excited about the theme of regeneration, not retirement. How do we regenerate ourselves at age 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, and beyond?

Go deeper with a workshop, in person or online.

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