What Is Retirement?

The Oxford dictionary defines retirement as “The period of one’s life after leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.”   But I believe this definition has become outmoded, at least for college-educated retirees in the United States.

I was spurred to consider this question after a dinner conversation with a 70+ “retired” attorney who is still “Of Counsel” to his former firm and does occasional legal work for friends and former business associates and by an email joke sent by my brother that goes through a process of deducting from the total population the number of people that are retired, in school, incarcerated, out sick and disabled to conclude there are only two people left actually working and one of them is reading this joke, so get back to work.

As I survey in my mind the retirees I know, almost to a person they are still doing some occasional consulting or engaged in volunteer or board positions in which they invest significant amounts of time and that yield productive results but for which they may not be paid.

The Oxford dictionary defines “work” as “Activity involving mental or physical effort done in or to achieve a purpose or result.”   Virtually all the retirees I know are engaged in multiple activities done to achieve a purpose or result.   Work is not solely defined as “a means of earning income” but, even if this narrower definition is used, many retirees I know are also engaged in some activity from which they derive income even if this is not essential for their retirement.

I propose that we redefine retirement as “The period of one’s life when one shifts from working primarily for the means of earning income to working primarily for the satisfaction of producing a purpose or result while devoting additional time to recreation, education and leisure activities.”