Where did the idea of Retirement come from?

I was reading an article on retirement in The Atlantic. The article discussed the earliest concept of retirement dating back to Otto von Bismarck of Prussia in 1881. The concept was to provide financial support to “older members” of society. The idea was radical because people did not retire, if you were alive you worked. At the time the majority of people were employed in agriculture to feed the masses. The struggle for payment continued for 8 years and finally with pressure from the socialists, legislation was introduced for the state to take care of those disabled from work. Social security was later introduced for those over 70 years old, however 70 was well above life expectancy at the time.
Soldiers were paid pensions for years prior to social security, however virtually all worked after there military service. In the late 1800’s pensions were paid to many public servants in major US cities  and in 1875 American Express started to offer pensions,  followed by major industrial companies which started paying pensions in the early 1900’s. All this culminated with the Social Security Act of 1935, with a retirement age of 65, and a life expectancy of 58. Research at the time suggested mental capacity started to decline at age 60 and it was time to pass work onto the younger generation. In Canada the Old Age Security Act was passed in 1927.

It is interesting to see the history of retirement which was designed to not pay or pay very little since no one was supposed to live past the age of qualification. In the 1960’s people started to live past Social Security age and had the money/savings to actually retire. This led to the problem we see today, which is the strain to fund payouts from government pension plans. This problem will need to be addressed before it becomes a problem for our children, but that is a discussion for another day. You might have seen this before on our blog, so here it is again financial and lifestyle planning are critical to ensuring you enjoy retirement on your terms, expecting anyone else to take care of you, even the government, is not wise.

Our current reality is people are living longer and want to work longer. You might say we are going back in time. In our book we have trumpeted the benefits of working longer, these benefits include mental stimulation, socialization, and extra income. All great benefits. The one caveat, unlike our ancestors today your goal should be to work on your terms. This may be working in a new career, or working part time, or starting your own business. We have the ability to create our own futures, the opportunities available to us today are unprecedented.


While opportunities are out there many of you may think “Sure I want to work but who is going to hire me, I’m too old?” This concern is fair and has been expressed by several people we have met at our live presentations. The question usually goes  something like this “Do people tell you they experience ageism when looking for work?” The short answer is yes we have heard that. Just as there is sexism, racism and sadly many other “isms” in every facet of the world, you may experience ageism in your job search. Throughout our life we have faced challenges in our careers, not getting the promotion, not getting the sale, etc.  and I am sure for the most part you have overcome that setback and moved forward. “Success is sweet and always sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats.”-Amos Bronson Alcott

If you think the reason you are not getting a job is your age, make sure you are not using this as an excuse crutch.  After every interview, positive or negative, look at how you approached the interview process. This may be your first interview with a new company in years, the rules of engagement have changed. Was LinkedIn and Facebook around the last time you looked for work? Did the interviewer know what you looked like, where you lived, that you just back from a ski trip, from social media? Did they already have an opinion of you from your LinkedIn profile and activity?

Yes the landscape has changed so don’t be afraid to seek help in figuring it out. Ask friends, human resource professionals, transition counsellors, and educate yourself.  The days of an interview starting with “Tell me a little about yourself”  are over, as are the days of you not knowing about your potential interviewer and employer.  The rules may have changed but how you prepare and how you present yourself in the interview are still the keys to success. Ask yourself did you prepare for objections? Were you ready to deal with the elephant in the room, the fact that you are older than your competition? Find strength in your experience and your broad skillset, and have a positive attitude, if they don’t see how terrific you are move on!

At Victory Lap we hope people heading into retirement or “phase two” of your career, think about it in the context of what is in the “Art of the possible”. What opportunities are out there for you? If you enjoy your work and simply want to continue to work, wonderful. If your career does not end on your terms and you want to continue your career in the same industry with a different corporation than be prepared for the interview process described above. If, however you have planned for the possibility of leaving the corporate world, have financial independence, then why not shed your “corporate skin”. In Victory Lap look for opportunities that will bring you joy. You can leverage the skills that you have developed throughout your career, but it does not have to be in exactly the same way. Perhaps becoming a consultant for small business owners that can’t afford someone like you full time,  maybe it is time to use the internet to create your own business or finally pursue an artistic passion. The opportunities are endless you just have to plan, experiment, and find the one that is right for you. Enjoy the journey.

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2 thoughts on “Where did the idea of Retirement come from?

  1. Robert Loius Reply

    Hi Mike!
    In terms of ageism, people should consider the experience and wisdom a senior has gained in his or her life, which can be great for their company if they take any sort of advice form that senior. In fact, instead of involving in a hectic job, seniors can earn at home by doing a freelance job, starting a food delivery service, becoming a pet sitter or pet walker, or even use their skills like knitting, crocheting, and sewing to sell the goods they have made. This will keep them busy without compromising mental and physical health.

    • Mike Drak Post authorReply

      Totally agree with you Robert the older worker can bring a lot to the table in terms of experience and skills and the smart companies know this. The best VL in my mind is one that’s based on a combination of work and leisure. If you do it right at the right pace the line between the two becomes blurry ie is it really work or is it play? There are lots of things people can do in VL that are both fun and can generate some active income. Thirty years without a good reason to get out of bed in the morning in my opinion is not the way to go.

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