Who said it was the normal to retire?

Does our body really ask us to retire?

Who said it was the normal to retire?

Some of the spunkiest people I know are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. One of the defining factors is that they are out in the world, and they are still working. That’s not to say spunk is only derived from working, but it is a key component.

My gran worked into her 70s as a seamstress, even with a little arthritis in her fingers, she was still nimble. As she went about her life she was like a peer to me rather than an ageing grandparent as she was very switched on about life and the world. This was in the 1970s when we didn’t have computers or mobile phones, or media on social media. We had daily newspapers, and we had people like my gran who were able to update on the state of the world due to being out in the world.

Fast forward to 2022 and here I am, 60 years old, with three jobs, one of which is ‘full time’, two are ‘part-time’ plus a number of voluntary roles too and I feel more alive now than when I was in my 30s. Some of my days are 14-hour days, add commuting time and my day is 16 hours, and yet I feel spunky, never looking for hump Wednesday or Thank Goodness Its Friday, or waiting for my next holiday, as work is so vitalising.

This is whilst a number of peers my age and younger have either retired, semi-retired or are counting down the days to retirement, like a colleague who ticks off each pay packet as being a month nearer to retirement.

I am curious as to what retirement is and why it is seen as ‘normal’ to retire, with retirement age becoming younger and younger.

If you look at any dictionary it will tell you retirement is about withdrawal, specifically about a withdrawal from working. Though if you look at the definition of withdrawal as well as a stepping back from work, it is also part of a process where withdrawal from a substance can mean withdrawal symptoms with the body experiencing e.g. fatigue, headaches, sweating and psychological symptoms too.

What I’m curious about is, when we retire from work, which is a withdrawal from an aspect of life, surely our body also goes through a physical and psychological withdrawal too? More so, where does that leave our vitality?

Social media shows many people who have retired from work to be active in other ways – golf, holidays, touring, hobbies, looking after grandchildren, caring for others, and volunteering, but unless there was ill health that required retirement, did their body actually ask to retire from work?

Go online and with one click it is easy to find many studies about retirement, being the ‘kiss of death’[1] with one argument being that only those with ill health or medical conditions retire, but people retire for a variety of reasons, including not liking their work. Studies also found that depression increased after retiring, as well as the lessening of social connection leading for some to loneliness. For others ‘once you take the work away most people have no idea what to do’.

In addition, a drop in income can affect the ability to buy food, to heat the house, to go out and socialise, and for some to not afford things like dental care, optical care, a haircut, or new clothes if needed which can lead to self-neglect[2]. Another study found that those who retired were 40% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke[3], which can have devastating consequences affecting quality of life, compounding any negative effect already felt by retiring such as lack of social connection.

So, we could say retirement can affect our health, and that our body is giving us a message that retirement didn’t suit that body as well as we might imagine. We could also say the level of wellness of our body may impact on our ability to work, as we age which may call for retirement due to ill health that being a case where our body asked us to retire from work – or retire from the work or job we were doing as arguably there may be other work we could do instead that would better suit us.

My observations are that my Gran in her 70s was much more spunky and alive (and physically well and active) than some who retire in their 50s or 60s. She grew her own herbs in the garden, cooked all meals from scratch, looked after her home, shopping, cleaning, and worked and could out pace me on a walk around the block. Her body enjoyed working and being out in life.

I know from my own experience I never dreamt of being so vital and alive at 60 and being able to work for long hours without fatigue. I sense my body would find it hard to withdraw from work and retire, as it seems so natural that work is part of the rhythm of life, no matter the type of work. My body loves work.

So why have we set up society with retirement as normal? Isn’t there a ripple effect?

There is a wealth of experience and wisdom that, when those who are skilled and experienced in different avenues of work leave, goes with them.

Also, there are many vacancies in our workplaces, and plenty of work – wouldn’t we be wise to maintain our elders? Particularly as they also add a further dimension of perspective, in that they have seen many changes during their lives and can have a steadiness in life that is supportive and inspiring to others, particularly those starting out in their careers, or early in their working lives.

What then of retirement? Should it stay or go? What might turn the tide? Maybe the advertisements for jobs could highlight the spunk factor of continuing to work. And maybe social media and workplaces could share less of the retirement stories and more of the elders who are actively in work in their 60s, 70s, and 80s as role models?

Maybe if, as a society, we weaned ourselves off of the picture of retirement being a norm (and simply accepted it only when our body does need a pause or a stop), we would not only have a vital workforce, but thriving communities and a thriving economy too.


  • [1]

    Brenoff, A. (2016). Early Retirement May Be The Kiss Of Death, Study Finds. Huff Post. Retrieved online 10th July 2022 from https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/early-retirement-may-be-the-kiss-of-death-study-finds_n_57221aa3e4b01a5ebde49eff

  • [2]

    Borzykowski B. (2013) Can Retirement Kill you? BBC. 14th August. Retrieved online 10th July 2022 from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20130813-the-dark-side-of-the-golden-years

  • [3]

    Skerrett, P.J. (2012). Is Retirement Good For Health or Bad For It? Harvard Health. 10th December. Retrieved online 10th July 2022 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-retirement-good-for-health-or-bad-for-it-201212105625

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AgeingEldersHealthRetirementReturning to work

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