When Old People Were Against Retirement

By Steve Gahagen


When the idea of retirement in the United States emerged as a new idea, most older people were against it. Initially, retirement was more about getting rid of older people than helping them. It was about getting old people out of the workforce to make room for young people. The Great Depression created an employment crisis and the Social Security Act of 1935 made retirement official.

Sociologists even contributed by spinning new theories of aging that included the concept of disengagement, a before unknown process whereby older people naturally withdrew from society as they prepared for decay and death. That might give you something to think about when you get your first AARP card - a 10% discount along with the onset of decay.

But just 85 years later, everyone in America over the age of 40 begins to think about retirement. It is the epitome of the American Dream. A secure retirement is the end mark of a life well-lived, even something of a status symbol. If you can retire early, better yet.

Strangely enough, the truly rich people never retire. Look at Warren Buffet. He is almost 90 years old and has so much money, he gives most of it away. He isn’t retiring. He enjoys what he does.

There is no shortage of messages that warn us about the dangers of not preparing financially for retirement, but maybe there are other things that are equally important in preparing for retirement. For example, since we know that using our strengths is so important to well-being, perhaps we should be planning ways we can work (paid or unpaid) in retirement that is flexible, yet fulfilling. How could you put your talents and life experiences to work in retirement?

One of my favorite questions to ask older people is this, “With all you have learned and experienced, what are two things you would still like to accomplish that will make a difference in the lives of others?” Your greatest accomplishment could come well after you’ve collected your last paycheck. Most people don’t think that way.

Questions to consider

I encourage you to discuss these questions around the office water cooler or home dinner table. You can breathe life into people in your sphere of influence as you ask them to share their thoughts.

  1. With all you have learned and experienced, what are two things you would still like to accomplish that could make difference in the lives of others?

  2. What would your dream retirement look like?

  3. What work could you do in retirement that would bring you fulfillment and bless others?

BlogRachael Ingersol