This chapter looks at the transition to retirement and at what life is like now for project participants whose career has spanned 25 or more years. Of the 50 people we interviewed, 13 were still working fulltime, nine were transitioning to retirement by, for example, working part-time or being flexibly retired, and the remaining 28 had formally retired. Nevertheless, as this chapter demonstrates, while people may be technically retired they often remain involved either in academic life, or in other forms of paid or unpaid work that utilise the many skills and abilities they have acquired over their working lives, as well as maintaining important continuities. Thus, we consider the question of whether there is such a thing as being a ‘retired gerontologist’, or do gerontologists never retire? In so doing, we uncover a spectrum of responses, from those who say they will never retire, through people gradually withdrawing, to those who have made a complete break and/or started new ‘careers’. In looking at this complex transition, we address themes around how participants perceive their contributions to the field of gerontology; the need for continued stimulation and challenge; and transferring skills to new/other areas. The ‘joys’ of retirement (learning, grandchildren, volunteering) and being ‘the lucky generation’ (financially) also feature in these discussions, as do some of the challenges associated with retirement.
The emergence of retirement as a social institution
Retirement as an established and major stage in the (male) life course first started to be recognised during the 1950s (Vickerstaff, 2015; Phillipson et al, 2018) and was initially constructed as a social and individual problem: as a ‘role-less role’, characterised by disengagement (Burgess, 1960). As a consequence, early research – dominated as it was by role theory – focused largely on the personal risks associated with retirement (Stieglitz, 1949; Phillipson, 1993; Phillipson and Baars, 2007). It was only during the 1970s and 1980s that a more positive view of retirement as a potentially desirable life stage was established. Associated with the emergence of the concept of the ‘third age’, ideas of retirement as a period of activity and development came to replace traditional notions of decline, passivity and disengagement associated with leaving work (Laslett, 1989; Gilleard and Higgs, 2000).