I was having lunch with a friend and he asked if his father could join us. “Sure,” I said. “He won’t be with us for very long, because he has a business meeting he has to go to,” my friend continued. “How old is your dad?” I asked. “Eighty five,” was the reply. His dad parked his Bentley, shuffled over to our table, stayed for about twenty minutes and then shuffled back to his car to go to his meeting. My friend continued, “ He’s involved in some real estate deal and he has to go meet the guy. He’s a little tired because he has just come from playing tennis in the morning.” I love that picture of life at eighty-five! Still working, still playing tennis and still finding time to have lunch with his son.
The idea of retirement was introduced in 1889 by the German Chancellor Bismarck to solve an unemployment crisis. The goal was to get older workers out of the workforce and open up room for younger workers. Prior to that date the idea of spending years of your life not being productive was a completely foreign concept. FDR brought the idea of retirement to the US in ‘32 for the same reason. When Social Security was instituted it kicked in at sixty-five years old when the average life expectancy was sixty-two years old. Today people have retirement as a goal and the picture of spending years doing nothing as something to spend one’s life trying to attain.
But retirement is not good for us. Take a look at two studies.
From WebMD: Oct. 20, 2005 — Early retirement is supposed to give you extra golden years to enjoy. But that may not happen, this study suggests. A study of Shell Oil employees shows that people who retire at age 55 and live to be at least 65 die sooner than people who retire at 65. After age 65, the early retirees have a 37% higher risk of death than counterparts that retired at 65.
That’s not all. People who retire at 55 are 89% more likely to die in the 10 years after retirement than those who retire at 65.
In another study from Oregon State University, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11 percent lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle and health issues. Even people who described themselves as unhealthy were found likely to live longer if they kept working, the study said.
“It may not apply to everybody, but we think work brings people a lot of economic and social benefits that could impact the length of their lives,” said Chenkai Wu, the lead author of the study.
But it’s more than just the bad things that happen to people when they retire, it is the lost value that people older than sixty-five can bring to the timeline of history.
Michelangelo was eight nine years old when he died– six days after completing his last statue.
Ronald Reagan was sixty-nine years old when he became President.
Mother Teresa was eighty-seven when she died, still serving the poor until the end.
Tony Bennett is still performing in his nineties!
The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin is still performing at seventy-five.
I’m glad none of them retired at sixty-five years old!
My friend Jim just became Provost of a major seminary this year. He’s seventy-two! That’s my kind of hero. I love that he is still engaged, still fighting the good fight and still making a difference in the world. We need him.
The question for us is about our picture. We been sold the picture of working for forty years, putting a nest egg away and doing nothing for twenty years while we live on the money we put away. But maybe that’s not the right picture. Maybe we are not supposed to be doing nothing for twenty or thirty years!
Maybe we have something more to offer the world in these twenty or thirty years. Maybe we still have significant work to do.
What will you and I bring to the world as we enter our “elderhood?”