Retirement. Evolution, revolution or retrenchment

Authored by: Sarah Vickerstaff

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Gerontology

Print publication date:  June  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415631143
eBook ISBN: 9780203097090
Adobe ISBN: 9781136221033


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It is clear that some profound changes are happening to retirement in the global north. What appeared to have developed in the last half of the twentieth century into a relatively predictable part of the life course is now undergoing a series of transformations, such that the word itself is often qualified: gradual retirement; partial retirement; working retirement, retirement career, unretirement or even frequently the highly qualified ‘retirement’. Whereas in the past retirement happened to people, now it seems that there is more choice in how to do retirement. The turbulence in what we understand by the term is reflected in the narratives people use to think about it. Research suggests that we hold two visions of retirement simultaneously: a positive picture of a new phase of time-rich life in which we can travel, pursue hobbies and enjoy ourselves, and a negative image of failing health, dependency and privation (Hedges et al. 2009). This duality is also reflected in cultural representations of older age in which the image is either of age-defying baby boomers engaged in ‘desirable’ leisure pursuits such as keeping fit or holidaying, or of the infirm and socially isolated older person struggling to exist and maintain dignity (Asquith 2009).

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