Changing Expectations for the “Retirement” Years
University College - University of Denver
MALS 4020 Research Paper
March 13, 2009
Today, age is a monumental factor in the realm of global economics
and its workforce. Based on the trends that shaped them, many older people
are taking part in an ongoing exodus from the work world where they feel
unwelcome. Yet, without the guidance and support of this significant and
influential older group, the future is bleak in every facet of life.
Companies and governments are (or will soon be) at a standstill from
the huge loss of human capital if we abide by our current conception of
retirement. The absence of older workers’ abilities, experience, loyalty, and
energy will leave a gap in the work world for decades as the younger
generations either lack in terms of population, skills, or experience to
replace the older workers.
To address these gaps we need to convince more of the older
generation to stay on the job, that their input is valid and needed in either
their previous or new occupations, business ventures, or as mentors or
volunteers so everyone can benefit from their experience. The capabilities
and desires of the older workers who choose to remain in the workforce
must be judged on fact rather than on assumptions and misconceptions.
These issues affect every one who is old enough to work, who has
been working or will soon be able to work. In essence there is not one
human being in the world who will not be affected by the need to alter their
perspectives on the aging members of our society and the contributions
these members can continue to make. We cannot afford to ignore the
problems that will arise because of a shortage of older workers as they
adhere to outdated norms while we disregard our current economic
Fairy Tales, come and gone...maybe
Once upon a time past generations lived an employment fairy tale.
People worked hard for a number of years, earned a good living and then at
a certain age quietly faded into a well deserved life of relative ease called
retirement (Lippman 2008). This idea was supported, encouraged, and used
by various social institutions--governments, employers, cultures, educational
establishments, and especially, family and peer groups--to effectively control
human behavior by shaping appropriate norms. Has this story come to an
end like all fairy tales or has the ending simply changed due to new
expectations, longer lives, and unstable economic realities?
Older workers who retire at a prescribed age are adhering to prior
generational and social institutions’ perceptions of appropriate norms and
not out of personal desire, factual proof of inability, or based on modern
economic realities. Governments, employers, cultures, educational
establishments, and, especially, family and peer groups are the social
institutions which have defined the norms of each generation. Many older
workers over age fifty are going against the norms of their generation by
continuing to work benefitting their physical, mental, and financial health. In
addition to these reasons they are working longer in some facet because of
their personal desires to remain vital contributors to the economy, society,
and the common good.
The Three Ages
In 2006, Greller and Richtermyer presented their three ages as a way
of categorizing age and ability. First, “chronological age” is dictated by
external sources, not by an individual’s abilities or desires (1214). A decision
made using one’s chronological age is not based on what one can or wants
to do. An example of chronological age negatively influencing one’s life is the
enforcement of a governmental law dictating when to retire to receive
benefits. It falsely reinforces the notion that people over sixty-five do not
want to work, can not learn a new skill, or are unable to retain training.
Retirement laws reward and encourage older worker’s acceptance of
chronologically-based misconceptions with financial incentives such as the
release of retirement funds upon their reaching sixty-five years of age.
Secondly, “functional age” is based one’s ability (Greller and
Richtermyer 2006, 1214). For example, a 70 year old who can lift fifty
pounds is at a better functional age than someone who is 25 but physically
disabled and unable to do so. It is a better factor in gauging the viability of
training, retaining, and seeking out older workers. Employers can use
functional age criteria to determine if employees meet job requirements
when hiring and retaining older workers rather than chronological age. To
this end employers would have to put aside biases and assumptions about
older workers and raise their expectations of them. They would have to
consider that impairment statistics tend to be on the whole life span of
people as old as 80 or 90 (Greller and Richtermyer 2006, 1214) and should
not apply them to older workers as a group but rather by evaluating
Lastly, “social age” dictates what are considered relevant norms as
shaped by social institutions such as family and peer groups (Greller and
Richtermyer 2006, 1215). Norms are the shared common beliefs among a
group (1216). Those adhering to appropriate age related norms are
rewarded and hold positions of respect and approval or leadership roles
among their peers. Displaying non-normative behavior can have very
negative impacts on older workers and their identity of self when they
indentify strongly with their peer group (Lippman 2008, 1263-4). If one does
not follow the group’s rules they may feel isolated and are considered odd or
disloyal to their group by attempting to enter a younger “privileged” group
that better fits their outlook (Desmette and Gaillard 2008, 170).
Regardless of one’s age, family input is the biggest contributor of
support for one’s initial career choice and overall course for professional
development and the driver in deciding when to retire (Newton 2006, 95).
The generational expectations of social peers and the families of older
workers are based on the framework of chronological age in deciding if
someone should continue working.
If one’s peer group is retiring at age sixty-five the general social
expectation is that all members of the group will do the same. This carries
over into one’s home life where one’s family members also expect the older
worker to adhere to the generational norms. Going against these norms can
have detrimental effects on older person’s self-esteem and perception of
their roles as contributors to the world. Regardless of their functional age
and their desire to continue working many succumb to their family’s wishes
and retire as expected.
Contrary to previous popular assumptions of various social institutions
that retirement be based solely on one’s age is a new message issued by
various sources and statistics. Retirement, they state, is not a function of
age at all, but, is determined by social pressure and persuasion from peer
groups and one’s great desire to adhere to family input (Greller and
Richtermyer 2006, 1217; Lippman 2008, 1265). Other contributing factors
include a sense of an unwelcoming work environment towards older workers
Desmette and Gaillard 2008, 170) and the financial incentives of outdated
governmental regulations to retire on time “as a matter of public policy”
(McManus et al 2007, 488; USDOLETA 2008).
In contrast to public, family, and peer group policies and because of
new economic realities some older workers are happily shifting towards
phased and active retirements (Hart Research Assoc. 2002, 1). They are
choosing to work longer in terms of years but less in terms of hours so they
can further build up their retirement incomes. Many older people are
spending the second half of their lives volunteering in record numbers.
Others over fifty are taking on new professions where they perceive
they can still contribute to the greater good of society as teachers or nurses
for example (3). Most over fifty state they would devote more time to
charitable organizations if there was a small incentive such as having their
medication paid for in relation to their service (1 and 7). They site a need for
a serious revamping of tax laws to remove government penalties on their
retirement incomes if they earn a salary during retirement (USDOLETA
Working longer after midlife as productive members of society has
been a tremendous boon for some resulting in happier, more fulfilled, and
celebrated long lives rather than just abrupt endings of their roles as societal
and economic contributors (Hart Research Associates 2002,1; McManus et al
2007, 484). Freudenheim recommends older people should
“repackage...age...as an asset” to raise their self esteem and their
expectations of younger people’s respect of older people’s experience (2007,
Also, the funds generated by older workers who stay in paid positions
helps them add to their incomes or savings which in turn allows them more
freedom to enjoy leisure activities and increases their overall quality of life.
Those who remain employed or engaged in volunteer efforts are in better
mental and physical health than those who retire without any future
purpose. Their minds stay sharp and their bodies physically fit. (McManus et
al 2007, 484-5).
For others, being labeled as an older worker has been more of a curse
causing great distress, a sense of despair, and feeling devalued (Desmette
and Gaillard 2008, 173). Also, their identification with the idea of an older
worker and the perceived stigma that goes along with it can cause older
workers to disengage from their work before retirement (Desmette and
Gaillard 2008). Retraining or further professional development can be
hindered by older workers, their employers and colleagues, their peers, and
especially by their family’s input. Older workers may not seek out more
training even if it is offered by employers because they perceive they are in
a work environment that is not supportive of their endeavors (Newton 2006,
The Hart Research Associates’ survey of older workers in 2002
revealed they will withdraw if they feel their new or old skills will not be used
by their employers or volunteer organizations (6; Greller and Richtermyer
2006, 1217; Newton 2006, 95). Their disengagement, reluctance, and
apprehension only feed into the false cycle of societal assumptions about
older workers being incapable or tired of work.
Older workers disengage from work prior to retiring because of
ageism, family conflict and/or peer group sanctions (Desmette and Gaillard
2008, 107; Greller and Richtermyer 2006, 1216). Ageism is discrimination
based on one’s age and contributes to the continued misconceptions of what
people are capable of in their later years (Lippman 2008, 1265).
Newton (2006), Lippman (2008), USDOLETA (2008), Desmette and
Gaillard (2008), Greller and Richtermeyer (2006) echo similar issues related
to ageism. One point that these sources agree on is that social institutions
promote false perspectives that older workers are incapable of obtaining new
skills and generally produce less than younger counterparts (Newton 2006;
Desmette and Gaillard 2008). Furthermore, social institutions are not solely
to blame for these misconceptions as older workers themselves buy into
them and allow normative expectations of peer groups and one’s family to
dictate their fates.
Despite mountains of empirical proof to the contrary, employers may
not alter their policies to be more inclusive of older workers. They are
reluctant to train older workers because of their misconceptions about older
employees’ ability to learn and retain new skills. Employers question how
long older workers will stay with a company but statistically older workers
are more likely to stay with an employer for the duration (Greller and
Richtermyer 2006, 1217; Lippman 2008).
Younger employees may pick up on and project ageist attitudes of the
work environment further distancing older workers (Newton 2006, 95-97;
Desmette and Gaillard 2008, 181; Greller and Richtermyer 2006, 1219). In
reality, because of their experience, older workers make fewer errors and
are more safety conscious in comparison to younger colleagues. The
questioning of older workers cognitive ability is part of the cultural
framework (Lippman, 2008, 1260). It is a psychological issue rather than a
physical or neurological inability in those aged 50-70.
Based on factual and updated information many public and private
employers such as CVS, Home Depot, and the United States government are
actively recruiting older workers to fill projected vacancies. The Federal
government is taking further action by changing laws to make it possible for
people to work longer without penalty to their retirement incomes
(USDOLETA 2008 and McManus 2007).
Age, Race, and Gender
Another issue that Lippman (2008), USDOLETA (2008), Desmette and
Gaillard (2008), Greller and Richtermeyer (2006) and others agree upon is
that ageism is as crippling an issue to older workers as gender bias and
racial prejudice is to others. The combination of one or more of the factors of
race, gender, and age further debilitates older workers. The less educated
and the lower class of work an older worker is engaged in means a more
easily and deeply damaged self perception. The result is a decrease in the
likelihood of their proactively seeking more training and a lower chance of
being re-employed (Lippman 2008, 1281 and 1283; Greller and Richtermyer
For example, a white male working in an executive position with a
college degree who is aware of how higher education works and has
developed a professional network is more likely to find a new job more
quickly. In comparison, an older Hispanic female working in a blue collar job
who has less than a high school diploma is in a more disadvantaged state
and will take longer to obtain work and will likely end up accepting a lower
rate of pay (USDOLETA 2008).
Furthermore, the combination of factors of gender and age contribute
greatly to the difficulty in the quest for reemployment as an older worker
(Lippman 2008, 1275). Lippman states that with each additional year of age
a woman’s chances of finding a job decrease in contrast to her male
counterpart for whom increasing age is less of a factor (1275). This was
evident regardless of one’s race but based on gender and age.This is a
remnant of the thinking that drove women back to their homes and out of
the workforce after the end of WWII when men returned in droves and
needed work to support families and so were the priority (Lippman 2008,
Economics: Past Social Contracts
Lippman in particular discusses the importance of the post-WWII
generation, Early Boomers (1946-1955) and late Boomers (aka Generation
Jones, 1956-1964) (1271). The social contract of the time between them
and their employers (Greller and Richtermyer 2006; Lippman 2008,1268)
was an implied agreement. It was integrated into every facet of the
Boomers’ socialization regarding the work world which began the moment
they went to school (1268). The term used by Lippman in reference to this
old social contract is “Fordism” (1266).
The economic ingredients of Fordism were an industrial based
economy driven by high factory production and consumer demand. This
provided stable employment and paid high wages and in turn sparked
greater consumer demand and further fueled the economy in a continuous
cycle. All of these elements were evident in the U. S. in the mid century
spurring the development of Social Security and the concept of retirement
(Lippman 2008, McManus 2007). The idea of Fordism was to pass people
through the work system as quickly as possible giving the younger and
larger Boomer generation of 76 million access to employment.
Fordism was reinforced by the government by its creation of new
retirement laws and by educational institutions’ development and
implementation of work related curricula (Lippman 2008, 1267). This triad of
a ready workforce, an able government, and willing employers all shared the
expectation that each would fulfill their part of the social contract. As long as
the employees were loyal and dedicated they could look forward to their
employers’ rewards of pensions and their governments’ rewards of Social
Security money and compulsory retirement (1266).
Economics: Present and Future
For various reasons the old contract has “unraveled”, but, still lives on
in the Boomers’ minds because of the way they were socialized during its
inception and implementation (Lippman 2008, 1266). The Boomers were
characterized by and still retain the idea of loyalty and dedication but this is
no longer mirrored by their employers. While the Boomers have remained
steadfast, employers and governments have revised their roles in new social
contracts, or lack thereof.
McManus et al blame this unraveling on the corporate greed evident in
all professions (2007, 487-8). Laws that once protected employees’ pensions
have disappeared and in their place stand a new crop of corporate
bankruptcy laws that protect employers. Another reason for this unraveling
is the realization that there will be fewer workers to support the large and
soon-to-be retired Boomers if we continue using their outdated concept of
retirement (Lippman 2008; McManus et al 2007). Because of this McManus
et al urge us to reshape our expectations of people over 50 and our concept
He and others argue that retirement has simply been or must be
redefined because of newer labor market expectations, economic realities,
and changing social situations (2007). Lippman points out a common
problem for Boomers is their difficulty in adapting to these new labor
markets upon forced displacement or partial retirement. Untraditional
employment changes such as outsourcing make for difficult transitions for
Boomers as well when compared to more adaptable groups such as
Generation X (McManus et al 2007; Lippman 2008, 1271).
As has always been the case, social institutions continuously change
their perspectives based on current economic, internal, and external trends
which are different than what was once deemed acceptable to previous
generations (McManus et al 2007). In other words, new norms are
constantly being created and introduced to younger generations during early
childhood (Lippman 2008, 1268 and 1280).
Major driving forces behind the creation of new norms are current
business practices as a postindustrial and service oriented nation (Lippman
2008; McManus et al 2007). These new norms require all workers to retrain
or seek further professional development continuously to keep their skills
marketable (Lippman 2008, 1260). New norms are often disorienting to
older workers, especially Boomers, in how they “make sense of the world”
(Griller and Richtermyer 2006, 1227; Lippman 2008), but, in order to
survive in the new workforce they must adapt to these new norms despite
their peer’s expectations (Lippman 2008, 1263-4).
Newton states that the professional development of older workers will
become a “business imperative” (2006, 93) as seen by the statistics in a
report by the U.S. Department of Labor-Training and Development
(USDOLETA) in 2008. According to those statistics the U.S. economy will add
8.9 million jobs by 2014. In conjunction, there will be a need to replace
nearly 36 million jobs and nearly 74% of people over 65 will still be working.
We see from these projected statistics the need to cultivate as many skilled
people as possible to work and the greatest resource will be the pool of
experienced people over fifty-five years of age by 2014.
One final reason for the creation of new norms according to Lippman is
the obvious and precipitous decrease of consumer demand for American
made products (2008, 1271). This has driven businesses to restructure,
downsize, collapse hierarchies, automate, and expect more flexibility and a
greater variety of skills out of its current and new employees (2008;
McManus et al 2007).
Three Generations in One Workplace
The emerging Generation Y (Gen Y), a cohort group of 76 million born
between 1981-2003, shares many similarities with the 78 million Boomers
(1946-1964) beginning with nearly equivalent populations. Also, Gen Y has
fewer conflicts with Boomers in comparison to Generation X (Gen X)
(1965-1980) who only number 46 million (Cox-Otto 2008c, 12; 2008b,
11-12). Gen Y and Boomers also share a sense of community and
camaraderie with their peers that is not as prevalent in Gen X.
Gen X is considered a sandwich generation and is under a great
amount of pressure. Gen X’ers will have to support the aging Boomers who
are in the process of deciding whether to exit, remain in, or change careers.
At the same time Boomers are preventing Gen X’ers from moving into higher
positions which causes friction between the two generations. However, Cox-
Otto states that if all Boomers left the workforce there would not be enough
members in Gen X to fill every vacant senior level position let alone lower
level jobs (2008a, 3). These issues contribute to the animosity between the
two generations. To add fuel to the employment fire, Boomers feel they
deserve and expect to be supported by Gen X.
The younger Gen Y have too few members in the workforce as many of
them are still growing up and so are highly dependent on the previous
generations. They have their own expectations which have been shaped by
their parents, Gen X, and their grandparents, the Boomers. They are
expected to be the next great generation in terms of employment
opportunities mirroring their grandparents’ early careers (Cox-Otto 2008a,
The combined younger generations of X and Y outnumber the Boomers
and tend to be better educated. According to Cox-Otto they demand more
balanced lives filled with quality time for family and fun in addition to work
(2006a and b; 2008a, b, and c). These demands, in combination with
changing business practices, cause significant changes in how employees are
viewed by companies in terms of human capital.
One perspective absent from the reviewed literature is a lack of in-depth
study of the influence of younger generations on older generations. Specifically,
how have the demands of Generation X and Y on social institutions caused Boomers
to go against the Boomers’ generational norms regarding traditional retirement?
Several assumptions can be made as to the causes of generational differences and
the factors that affect them.
Modern issues will have to be investigated, such as today’s delays in
marriage and child bearing and the increase in divorce and blended families, as
factors that may be eroding the former importance of family and peer expectations
which once weighed so heavily on one’s choice of career. This is freeing younger
generations to independently make their career decisions without gaining approval
of family members or social peers. Has this then affected members of the older
generation? Are they also freeing themselves from the expectations of family and
peers and other social institutions regarding retirement or continued employment?
A cross-sectional study of the three generations will take place using
interviews for qualitative research along with the surveys for quantitative research..
Due to the human element involved, IRB approval will have to be obtained and
guidelines developed and adhered to in full compliance with IRB regulations to
The author’s point of view is that survey participants will be limited in
expressing themselves fully regarding what affects one generation has on another
from a survey alone. Research will be done using a mixed research method of
recent quantitative data and limited first hand qualitative data to obtain a balanced
perspective in terms of numbers and personal accounts. Brief face-to-face
interviews will be conducted to garner a broader perspective on relevant issues
from the participants’ point of view and compared with the data collected in
previous statistics and surveys.
The data, surveys, and questionnaires will then be compared against
published interviews and additional statistical information found in books, such as
Freedman’s Encore... and Goldberg’s Age Works..., to validate the statements of
the small cross-section of participants taking part in this preliminary research. This
research will be followed up by a more extensive study for the purpose of writing a
book on the subject of how well the generations work together and what prejudices
exist in the workforce based on someone’s age, gender, race and generational
norms. These issues are either absent or limited in the current reviewed literature.
Summary and Conclusion
The contract that automatically guaranteed work and pensions in the
past can no longer function as it once did because of dramatic shifts in the
size of age groups and changes in business strategies (Lippman 2008,
McManus et al 2007). According to authors and researchers there is discord
among various social institutions and employees on retirement issues.
Desmette and Gaillard and Lippman argue that workers are in a state of
panic, shock, and dismay about retirement and that job loss or displacement
cause them to suffer from poor self image (2008).
In contrast, USDOLETA (2008), McManus et al (2007) and Hart
Research Associates (2002) state older workers and those who are retired
want a more flexible work schedule. They emphatically assert that older
workers are ecstatic to take up work in volunteer groups because it fills their
need to do good work and be engaged. Surveys point out that older workers
enjoy the physical, social and mental interaction found in service to others
(Hart Research Associates 2002; McManus et al 2007). Older workers and
those looking to retire or are retired like to see the difference they make in
the world around them.
Many are choosing non-normative behavior by working in increasing
numbers in social fields such as working with children, caring for others, and
volunteering in organizations such as churches (Hart Research Associates
2002, Freudenheim 2007, and Civic Ventures 2008). Older people like their
leisure time but also welcome the opportunity to work in a new job or
setting, or gain a new skill provided they are respected, challenged, and
utilized (Hart Research Associates 2002; USDOLETA 2008). One thing that
everyone agrees on is the need for more research because of the complex
issues surrounding people over 50 regarding the influence of family and
peers. Several factors have yet to be examined in greater detail such as why
race and gender cause differences in the re-employment prospects of
Boomers and their difficulty in adapting to new work models.
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