Americans’ View of Retirement

I think as Americans it is easy to view retirement as something we are entitled to have and experience. We lived overseas in a socialist country for a time. It was sad to watch how the elderly approached retirement. They had worked hard, given almost half of their income to the government and now it was the government’s turn to take care of them. For them, retirement meant sitting around and doing nothing.

I can’t imagine the emptiness in their life as a result of this mentality. They didn’t seem fulfilled. But they didn’t have any motivation or vision for life after work. Life isn’t work but making contributions and giving of yourself to others is a lot of what living is about. As a result of this nation’s view of retirement, many  years were wasted by the elderly and discontentment resulted.

Retirement wasn’t even a concept before the 1900s. In an agriculture society, people worked until they could work no longer and then moved in with their adult children as their life was coming to an end. Or they worked until they died. With the introduction of urbanization, industrialization and the Great Depression, the Social Security Act was introduced in 1935 to help provide for the elderly.

At the time, the age in which Social Security benefits was set to kick in was sixty-five and still is. The life expectancy for men in the 1930s was fifty-eight for men and sixty-two for women. “Mandatory” retirement also opened up the job market for young people. Unemployment rates were incredibly high. Most people didn’t live much longer anyways.

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With the increase of our nation’s life expectancy, we now live longer. The cut-off age is no longer applicable. And retirement as become a “right” and early retirement even a status symbol.