Nobody Retires Anymore

by Dr. Ben on November 10, 2011

Blame the economy.  Blame the stock market.  Blame the housing crash. Blame the demise of fixed benefit retirement plans.  Blame Social Security.  Blame longevity!  There are lots of reasons why people don’t retire anymore.


Retirement is a relatively new concept.  It emerged in the late twentieth century following the enactment of the Social Security Act of 1933, the expansion of unionized labor, the temporary proliferation of retirement plans, a boom in wages and benefits, and a leisure mentality.  People began to believe that there was an end to work, and a life of leisure, travel, and contentment awaited them.  And for many people, for a window of time, it was real.  Then things changed.


We’re creatures of habit, and after a lifetime of work, it’s difficult to change. Think about it.  Most people begin working full-time between ages eighteen to twenty-five, and continue to work until they’re 55-65 years old.  This means they typically spend between 25 years (beginning work at 25 and retiring at 50), to 47 years (starting at age 18 and working to age 65).  Some work a shorter period, while many continue to work even longer. During our working years the only activity we spend more time doing, is sleeping.  Habits are difficult to change, and work is one of our most enduring.

During our employed years we spend around one-third of our total day (eight hours) working.  This may be considerably longer depending on our job, our commute and other circumstances.  Sure, we enjoy weekends, vacations, and holidays away from the office or factory, but a huge proportion of our life is spent working, thinking about work, preparing for work, getting to and from work, etc.  And, recently even more of our time is “sucked up” by electronic tethers (cell phones, BlackBerry’s, laptops, and the like) to the office.


The fact is, you should prepare to continue working, indefinitely.  Not only does work provide income and benefits, it also provides social connections, mental stimulation, challenge, opportunity, meaningful activity, fulfillment, etc.  For some people retirement is wonderful, for others it’s a feeling of uselessness.

Studs Terkel summed it up:  “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” (from Working, (1974) New Press).

Today’s reality is- most people will have to continue working.  If they didn’t, chances are they would “outlive their money.”  However, there are many options.  Part-time employment, self-employment, at home work, Internet businesses, etc., are all possibilities.  So, don’t be discouraged by the possibility of lifetime work.  Instead, see the opportunities for creativity; and lifelong learning and value.

Previous post:

Next post: