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Transition Retirement - What Should Retirement Be?

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The retirement stage that workers anticipate, enter, and occupy is widely available only because of larger political and economic arrangements that created pension supports for retirement. These supports developed across the twentieth century in order to manage the size and composition of the labor force. As a creation of institutional policy, the evolving practice of retirement continues to be a policy focus for the future.

After a decades-long trend toward earlier exits—now halted—powerful interests are pulling the timing of retirement in more than one direction as the twenty-first century begins. Concerned about population aging and the solvency of public pension schemes, the nations of the industrialized West have begun to favor policies that extend work life. For example, the U.S. Social Security program is gradually raising its eligibility age for full benefits from sixty-five to sixty-seven. At the same time, advertisers are strenuously pushing a positive image of retirement to middle-aged and older adults who are a prime market for financial, health, and recreational products. Such promotions raise expectations for a life stage promising release, self-development, and active lifestyles. Finally, employers want flexibility above all in the management of personnel flow. Prevailing conditions in different industries and occupations will shape demand for older workers, and with it the shifting of incentives to remain, retire, or work part-time.

Some have argued that the time has come to rethink retirement, what with increased longevity, health, and wealth among the new cohorts of retirees, as well as pointed political challenges to their age entitlements. A ‘‘third age’’ devoted primarily to leisure washes meaning from people’s later years and wastes human resources that could be applied to pressing social problems. New organizational forms could channel the energies and talents of elders toward civic contributions and build a legacy for their communities.

The retirement stage will continue to serve both social and personal purposes. Organizational, societal, and economic objectives will further fashion the arrangements that make retirement feasible, even as individuals use the opportunity to seek security and novelty, self and service.



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