The Short History of Old Age
Leisure in America
American workers are spending more time in retirement today than they did thirty years ago. But that has started to change. The amount of retirement time is beginning to shrink.
This chapter reviews the evolution of retirement in the United States and how retirement is changing. Policymakers and pundits say Americans should work more. They argue that working more is a win-win solution to rising Medicare and Social Security costs and to the upward pressure on wages caused by so-called future labor shortages.
But working more is not a win-win solution. There are losers. The losers are the people who lose their pensions, the people who lose a viable choice about whether to work in old age or retire with a reasonable income. Though some elderly find work attractive as retirement income fails, they lose the ability to seek work on their terms. They lose to terms that are more favorable to employers.
The elderly are working more now at the beginning of the twenty-first century than they worked in the 1980s. There was a time when Americans worked less and had more retirement time.
DATA TO DIGEST
• A man born during the 1930s, reaching his sixty-fifth birthday in 2000,
could expect 13.4 years of old-age leisure—those are retirement years I refer
to as the time after work and before death.