I think we can all agree. We desperately need another word for retirement. Retirement is a word that we use to roughly define a period of life after work. But this word is imprecise at best and — at worst — really flat out wrong about this phase of life.
I mean, some of us might actually “retire” (withdraw) when we retire (stop working), but most of us find new and interesting things to do. And, many of us keep working in “retirement” — finding new and more meaningful jobs or different purposes for satisfying work.
Why Do We Use the Word “Retirement”?
When Social Security was first enacted in 1935, the age of retirement was set at 65. At that time, the average life expectancy was 61! Yes. Most people died before they even started to collect Social Security.
Today, average life expectancy is just under 80 years and many of us live longer. Much longer! And, the percentage of the workforce representing workers over 65 has doubled since 1992. And that trend is expected to continue unabated.
Historically, the word retirement made sense. However, it just doesn’t mean what we experience now. If you “retire” in your sixties, you have 20-30 or more years to fill. That is too much time for withdrawing.
Side Note: Historically it did make sense to start collecting Social Security as early as possible. However, nowadays it is a good idea to delay the start of benefits until at least your full retirement age in order to maximize your lifetime payout. Learn more about the best time to start Social Security: Easy steps to the right Social Security decision.
Financial advisor Robert Laura wrote a piece for Forbes that suggests that adding an “s” to retirement more accurately reflects the transition into a new kind of life rather than a hard stop at work. He writes, “By acknowledging the idea that each of us may have multiple retirements during our lifetime, the burden is removed from making this huge, one-time, make or break decision. This new mindset says, “What’s next?” instead of “I am no longer a productive part of society.” It fosters positive thinking and gives boomers permission to be proactive as they transition from one role or situation into the next.”
Financial Independence/ Freedom / Financial Freedom
Whether you are still working or completely without any external paychecks, retirement is generally a time when someone has achieved financial independence. You know what resources you have now and what you will need to fund your life.
Encore / Next Act / Life 2.0 / Third Act
Encore.org is an organization devoted to helping people of retirement age make an impact. They write: “The decades of life beyond 50 become a time of social contribution and impact — and we leave the world better than we found it.”
Lawrence R. Samuel, Ph.D. writes in Psychology Today, “Rather than embrace their parents’ model of seniority defined by retirement, baby boomers are now considering or pursuing many different options, a version of life I call Boomers 3.0. Instead of heading en masse to retirement communities much like “Del Boca Vista” (the fictional condominium complex in Florida of Seinfeld fame), 60-somethings are going back to school, starting new relationships, exploring their creativity, taking new spiritual paths, embarking on “encore” careers, forming new communities, fighting for causes in which they believe, giving their time and money away, and yes, bucket listing. For financial and other reasons, a good number are working and staying in their current homes as long as possible, seeing no compelling reason to do otherwise.”
Spanish speaking countries might just have the right word. Retirement translates into Spanish as “jubalacion.” The word jubalacion (jubilation in English) originally meant making a joyful noise. It comes from Latin jubilant- ‘calling, hallooing’, from the verb jubilare. Wooohoooo! Happy Jubalacion!
Maybe we could call retirement: Happyment. Yahooment. Yipeement. Joyfulment…
Up until retirement age we are either under the control of someone — a parent or a boss — or we are responsible for someone — our children and employees. Maybe retirement really means a time that is all our own when responsibilities are minimized.
However, don’t forget that having a purpose and a reason for being is critical to your emotional welfare.
Maybe we shouldn’t shy away from age in retirement. Why not call ourselves Very Old People (VOP) or Rather Old People (ROP).
Age is one thing that most retired people do have in common despite varied interests and activities. We can turn the negative associations with age on their head and own the age.
Adolescence 2.0 / Adult-escance
The noun adolescence comes from the Latin word adolescere, which means “to ripen” or “to grow up.” So, it makes sense that we use adolescence to describe the phase when transition into adulthood.
However, let’s face it, do we ever really “grow up?” We just keep learning and growing. Retirement age feels a lot more ripe than being a teenager ever did! Maybe we need to claim this word.
Maturation is an excellent candidate to replace the word retirement.
The word Maturation comes from Latin maturare “to ripen, bring to maturity,” from maturus “ripe, timely, early,” related to manus “good” and mane “early, of the morning,” from PIE root *ma- “good,” with derivatives meaning “occurring at a good moment, timely, seasonable, early.”
It also means the time when debts or financial obligations come due. So, this word reflects both the financial and psychological aspects of this time of life. It is an honest but flattering description of getting older.
For many people, retirement is a time when your values become more important than money. Even if work is involved, then you are working at something you love, not just working.
Is Retirement Just One Thing?
Maybe the problem with finding a word for retirement is that it is not just one thing.
As noted above, retirement can last 30 or more years and a lot is going to happen in that time. And, most experts agree that we go through many different phases in retirement — going from the transition out of working for money to an active and engaged time to finally a time of withdrawal.
And don’t forget that, when creating a retirement plan, you need to think about how your income and expenses will evolve over the rest of your life. (You probably won’t be spending or earning the same amounts in 10 years as you are now.)