Are You "Retired”?
We noted in the text that retirement can be defined from at least three main perspectives and that the changing nature of work is also creating changes in how retirement is viewed. Try finding evidence of these changes in your own community. Pay a visit to a local senior center
and talk with some of the older members who worked their entire adult lives for the same company. See how well they fit into the aspects of work and retirement discussed in the chapter. Then talk with some people who accepted "early retirement" buyouts from corporations as part of
a downsizing effort. See how their work careers differed from the older individuals’ careers.
Try to get a sense of how these people view themselves—as retirees, or as something else. Share your results with the class and discuss their implications for future generations of workers.
depending on how the question is asked (Zsembik & Singer, 1990). For example, Mexican Americans are most likely to claim that they are retired when asked directly (“Are you retired?”) than when asked indirectly (“What are you doing these days?”). It may be that people want to appear active, so they choose some other descriptor. In contrast, European Americans are just as likely to call themselves retired no matter how they are asked.
The Changing Nature of Retirement. Contributing to the complexity of the retirement process is that issues concerning retirement are changing rapidly. Just as fundamental change is occurring in the definition of work, so too are similar changes occurring in the definition of retirement. More individuals in their post-retirement years are working in part-time jobs, primarily to supplement their incomes but also to maintain adequate levels of activity. Many older adults also volunteer their time to many different organizations.
The need for some older adults to continue working is becoming more formally recognized. For example, one senior center in Wilmington, Delaware, offers job-training programs for older workers. These programs prepare workers for a variety of jobs that provide a way for them to earn a living. Some corporations, such as McDonald’s, actively recruit older
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workers because of their reputation for reliability and responsibility. Indeed, roughly a third of recent retirees report being partially retired (or partially employed) at some point, but their employment is usually in low – paying jobs taken out of economic necessity (Moen & Wethington, 1999). More recently, at DuPont older workers have the opportunity of work-life programs such as part-time jobs that were originally developed for young employees with families (Market, 2008; McCune, 1998).
As more people anticipate longer periods of retirement, and with the virtual removal of all mandatory retirement, one interesting research question will be whether more individuals will choose to continue working if possible, especially with the recent economic downturn. In the latter case, the numbers of employed older adults may also increase if people’s financial status is insufficient to support them if they retire. First, there have been many debates in the mid-1990s about the long-term viability of the Social Security system; if this system changes dramatically, it will have a major effect on decisions to retire. Second, a growing number of Americans even at 67 are not retiring because of the failure of Americans to financially bear the burden of retirement, changes in society with respect to the need to work, and the recent economic recession (Market, 2008).
As the baby-boom generation approaches retirement age, examination of retirement programs increases, as do debates about the proper time to retire. As you consider the issues in the following sections, you should recognize that new views on the role and nature of retirement are emerging that may force us to reconsider issues we thought were settled. You can see this for yourself by doing the Discovering Development exercise.