Retirement Age at 65?
Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere
your God. I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:32
The LORD said to Moses, “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the Tent of Meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. Numbers 8:23-26
Retirement is a modern concept. Cotton Mather, the Puritan firebrand, in the early 1700s attempted to encourage aging workers to consider being “…pleased with the Retirement you are dismissed into.” This concept did not mean the worker would receive a monthly pension; rather it was an encouragement for the older to step aside and let the younger have a place of contribution. Until the Industrial Revolution, mankind simply worked until they could work no longer. It was the move away from primarily an agrarian society and to a factory work environment that was less physically demanding that gave older workers an opportunity to continue to work to increasingly older age.
In 1883, Chancellor van Bismarck of Germany had to face the growing attraction of the Marxists who were promising aging German factory workers an old age pension. To counter the Marxists, van Bismarck offered to pay the German factory workers to stop working and receive a monthly payment from the government.* He chose the age of 65 as the age to stop working. It is interesting to note that the life expectancy in Germany at the time was 62 years of age!
By 1935 the Depression was in full bloom and President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to address the issue of caring for aging American workers who had lost their savings in the Depression and had little support to make it to old age. The Social Security Act of 1935 established the age of 65 as the retirement age for American workers. It is also interesting to note that the life expectancy for American workers in 1935 was 58 for men and 62 for women. And now, with the Amended Social Security Act of 1988, the retirement age is gradually being raised to 67 by the year 2025 with life expectancy for men being 76 and women being 81.
It would seem that the age of 65 is a seemingly random and one adopted in a context very different from today’s. But what about the entire concept of retirement? Is it something that we should be aiming for? More to come….
* N.Y. Times, The History of Retirement, From Early Man to A.A.R.P. March 21, 1999