- Historic Sites
When Should We Retire?
Twentieth-century answers to that question have much less to do with the health and happiness of the retiree than we have been led to believe
April/may 1983 | Volume 34, Issue 3
Yet while this recent twist, or turnabout, is understandable, there is something disturbing about the manner in which legislators and the public at large were able to conveniently forget why mandatory retirement had been instituted in the first place and what its role in society had been. Overnight, it seemed, what had been created and accepted as a functional instrument of social engineering was transformed into a curious relic reflecting nothing but prejudice, stereotypes, and ignorance. Overnight, too, the alluring concept of leisure was replaced by a new—or rather centuries-old—concept: work. In place of the idyllic postwar vision of retirement, Jimmy Carter offered the vision of an active and “inspiring” old age, trotting out as evidence his seventy-eight-year-old mother, who a decade before had served in the Peace Corps in India. And liberal senator Jacob Javits, apparently oblivious to all the effort that had once gone into ensuring that older people would not work, now hailed his own antiretirement measure as “a new Magna Carta for older people.”
If elderly people of the turn of the century could compare notes with those of us approaching this century’s end, the two generations might well conclude that, whatever else has changed, the fate of the elderly remains the same: to serve the needs of other age groups and to be retired, or put back to work, in the interest of someone else’s conception of the general welfare.