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The retirement of retirement

By Keith Suter - posted Wednesday, 19 April 2023

France is now engulfed in the worst riots since 1968. Those of us who are old enough to remember those events – and even to have participated in them - are now old enough to retire. The French retirement age is 62 and the government would like to raise it to 64.

But should we retire? Is it time to retire retirement? Retirement was a noble government experiment but perhaps it has outlived its usefulness.

Most workers throughout history never "retired". They worked until they died (often in the workplace itself). Or they may have spent their final months or years with their families; there were few "aged care" institutions.


The workers who were officially "retired" were mainly members of the military. The UK scheme of Chelsea Pensioners was created in 1692, for example, and today 300 veterans in their distinctive red uniform are a London tourist attraction in themselves.

Things improved for civilians in the 1880s, when the German chancellor (prime minister) Otto Von Bismarck promised all German workers an old age pension when they turned 70. He was not giving much away because most workers died before turning 50.

However, the German idea caught on. One of the earliest pieces of national Australian legislation was the 1908 act guaranteeing an old age pension to men aged over 65 and women aged over 60 (only four per cent of the population reached 65 years, and so again the government really was not being that generous).

The Club of Rome has estimated that if the German scheme were introduced today workers would need to be aged around 87 to be eligible.

The focus on "70" years may well have come from the Bible. Psalm 90, verse 10 talks about "three score and 10 years".

Otherwise, there is little logic behind that figure, especially today. There is nothing magical about that figure, or the 60/65 one. Retirement is not age – it is simply a number.


One reason for abolishing retirement is, then, that people are now living longer, healthier lives. A person who retires at 65 and does not die until aged 90, will have 25 years of retirement. By 2050, a quarter of the Australian population will be 65 or older.

People are aging more slowly. They have heathier lifestyles, better healthcare, better nutrition, less or no smoking and drinking, better dentistry, and better skincare (because of sun blockers). They are younger for longer.

Second, the nature of work has changed. The tough, back-breaking work in agriculture and manufacture is being eased by the use of machines.

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About the Author

Dr Keith Suter is a futurist, thought leader and media personality in the areas of social policy and foreign affairs. He is a prolific and well-respected writer and social commentator appearing on radio and television most weeks.

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