The first mandatory retirement with a government pension was introduced in 1889 by Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Germany. At first, the retirement age was set at 70, but was reduced to 65 in 1916.
One story is that Bismarck wanted to modernize the army, but was held back by a bunch of old generals in their 80’s. The way out was to grant them an honourable retirement complete with a government pension as a reward for their many years of service, then replace them with younger, more progressive-minded generals. In order to be fair, the pension had to be granted to all German citizens 70 and older. Never mind that the Iron Chancellor himself was 74 at the time and no one was going to tell him when to retire.
There may be some truth to the story of the aged generals, but it is important to note that in 1889 the average life expectancy at birth was less than 40 years in Germany. Anyone who survived to 70 probably had some major health issues. The pension was meant to help cover the costs of dealing with those health and disability issues, not as a gift to use in enjoying years of leisure in retirement.
Nowadays, men have the rosy, idealized, picture of working hard until they are 65 and then enjoying many happy years of leisure in retirement. For many of these men, their social circle is largely made up of the people they worked with, and after retirement they no longer have much in common with their former friends. So they wind up following their wives around the house and telling them how they could do a better job of their housework.
I don’t think women have quite the same problem when they retire, they may be better at building social networks that are not necessarily related to work. Being a man myself, I feel more sure of my ground in talking about the tendencies of those of my own gender.
One thing that can make a huge difference is having strong ties to a warm and active Christian community. If this is our most important social circle, it will remain intact after we retire. And yes, there is a social aspect to a Christian congregation, or else it isn’t a real Christian congregation.
But why does one need to retire at all? The goal of our life, at work, at home, in our community, in our church, should be to serve God and to serve others. If we don’t need the pay cheque anymore, that is wonderful, but it does not diminish our need to serve God and to serve others. The knowledge and abilities gained while working for a living may find a new application in the years following retirement, in part-time work and in volunteer work. Those who look forward to that rosy picture of a life of leisure after retirement generally find it to be a mirage.
For the past four years, I have been in charge of taking a group from our congregation once every two months to hold a Sunday morning service in the chapel at one of Saskatoon’s hospitals. There is a volunteer who sets up the microphone for the service and then plays the organ and sings some of the old, familiar hymns until the patients are in and it is time to start the service. Her husband helps bring patients down from the wards. Marjorie is 84, George is 85.
Marjorie has been battling leukemia for several years, undergoing chemotherapy treatments, but she still came every Sunday and was always cheerful, warm-hearted and welcoming to everyone. Last Sunday she told me that her last blood test was the best in the last seven years. That is wonderful news and I am happy for her. She is an inspiration to me in her determination to serve as long as God gives her strength. I don’t know if determination is the right word, it is her joy to serve.