What is retirement anyway?

Paul Gutherson of NDTi asks: what if we stopped thinking in terms of “work” and “retirement” or in terms of “work” and “leisure”, of “jobs” and “hobbies” and reframed the narrative that is being imposed upon us?

I have been troubled by the growing number of articles saying that older people need to work for longer and that we need to raise the age at which state pension can be claimed in the UK, but I havent been able to put my finger on what it is that troubles me so much. Part of it might be that for many people their health may stand in the way of working for longer but I think it is more than that – it is the narrative that we are being asked to accept – that plays on normative understandings of what “work” and “retirement” are.

What do you imagine when you think about retiring? Dictionary definitions of retirement typically include phrases like “withdrawing from action”, “ceasing work” or “stop taking part” but how many people do you know who have “retired” that have withdrawn? Or stopped taking part? Why do we insist on defining retirement as a deficit, as an absence of paid employment, of stopping? For many people retirement is an opportunity to get involved, to be more active and involves a great deal of “work” – as carers (for older and younger relatives), as volunteers, as part time employees, as learners and as creators.

Let me be clear, for me, work is not ONLY what we do as an employee or business owner, work is in fact ANY “activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result”.

I am increasingly convinced that as we begin to think about what the demographic shifts that are happening in our society actually mean we will be forced to rethink our relationship with typical binary pairings like “work” and “leisure”, or “paid employment” and “volunteering”. 

How can we start to reframe retirement as an asset? The growing narrative is that there is an economic imperative that means society needs older people to stay in paid employment for longer but I wonder what if we shifted that narrative and placed greater value on the other work that we all do? What if we stopped thinking in terms of “work” and “retirement” or in terms of “work” and “leisure”, of “jobs” and “hobbies”? What if we valued, and rewarded, all our work and not just that which creates economic value for an employer. 

We need to recognise and value the social value created by other forms of work and think about how they might be rewarded if we are to respond positively to the many assets that are our ageing population.

Your views? Join the debate by emailing editor@theageactionalliance.org

Please share: