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Family Scene, Detail of Old Man by Louis Leopold Boilly

This past two days, the library hosted a motivational speaker for those entering retirement. He detest the word “retire” and encourages people to think of it as Bonus Years, Encore Careers, Second Life, etc. Then he touched on the history . . .

Retirement is a late Victorian concept! I did not know this!!

“Retirement” was conceived by none other than The German Chancellor, Otto Von Bismark back in 1889. It served a dual purpose of preventing Marxism but essentially to push the older employees out of the work force, so the younger people could have the jobs. In a sense, buying off an older person to “go away.” It did not start as a German-wide action, but began in the factories, but the idea gradually spread to other sectors and departments. During the late 1800s life expectancy for a male (who was the predominant wage-earner) was about 76 years old; and that is if one was lucky! Retirement options commenced at age 70. So a person truly only had to save for a maximum of decade or so. Even then, the money did not go far. It was strictly a government “buy out,” there was no personal money put toward this lump sum; no pension accumulated. Those ideas came later. At first people were thrilled to receive the cash and not work; it was certainly a better than the alternative.

In Modern times, the average male life expectancy hovers around 87 and women are routinely living to 90 years of age. With the lower retirement age of 62, people are still living 25-35 years after “retirement.” This brings up a host of modern issues, which I shall not go into, but this is all something to consider. . .