Shortfalls in retirement savings have been widely regarded as a crisis of our times. Perhaps. The history of the relationship between old age and work reveals a more complicated picture, one that calls into question the idea that retirement is both necessary and desirable. It turns out that the modern concept of retirement, far from reflecting a desire to give the elderly a break, was the product of something more insidious: age discrimination.
Nearly two centuries ago, lexicographer Noah Webster defined “retire” and “retirement” as a form of withdrawal: retiring for the evening, for example, or retiring from public life. But retiring to pursue hobbies and spend more time with the grandchildren while living off a lifetime’s worth of savings invested in stocks and bonds? No.