This article begins by contrasting the romanticized notion of retirement with the cold, ruthless realities that the elderly face, such as ageism and mandatory retirement, while they anguish over other matters, such as the stability of Social Security. Two components of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development—generativity vs. stagnation and integrity vs. despair—are addressed, along with pertinent issues and behaviors that the elderly undergo during these developmental stages, such as valuable volunteer experience, identity crises pertaining to the loss of employment and the desire to retrospectively find meaning in one's life accomplishments, angst, and the association between a fear of death and job cessation. The article concludes that people in the midst of retirement ultimately suffer the consequences of youthful ideals, based on diminished services and an overall sense of societal disregard.
Keywords Ageism; Life Review; Mandatory Retirement; Retirement; Social Security; Theory of Psychosocial Development
Effects of Retirement
The following passage offers a succinct description of retirement: "to withdraw from business or public life so as to live at leisure on one's income, savings, or pension" (Moser, 1997, p. 1). The danger of relying on such a simplistic definition surrounding any social phenomenon is that it might minimize its multifaceted nature. For example, the aforementioned description creates an image of linear developmental succession, and one might assume that such a transaction begins with the first "chapter" in a person's occupational timeline, during which he or she lays the groundwork of preparatory vocational or education training that will enhance his or her eventual career of choice; continues with a lifetime of hard work and perseverance; and ends with the much-anticipated concluding chapter—the land of retirement. People imagine that during this final epoch, they can reap the benefits of their painstaking and laborious efforts by discovering hidden passions (Armstrong, 2004; Daniel, 1995; Hubler, 1999; Stoddard, 1987) while operating at their own self-directed, unsupervised, and leisurely pace.
This theoretical sequence of events is not entirely erroneous, and most people today do, in fact, refine their job-related preparatory prowess, evidenced in the amount of students who pursue postsecondary education immediately following high school graduation, a figure that in the United States rose to an all-time high of 70.1% in 2009 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013). Likewise, there is an abundance of resources available to retirees that allow them to participate in recreational activities such as golfing (Gose, 2006) or gardening (Cubie, 2006) or relocate to retirement facilities that are constructed to resemble resort-style utopias (Volzer, 2005). However, this seamless, even Hollywood-esque, notion of retirement paints an unrealistic picture by neglecting the harsh and dismal realities that can also accompany retirement, as parting ways with one's field of choice can often be riddled with acrimony and disappointment.
The stumbling blocks encountered on the road to retirement begin in the timeframe just preceding it. It is not unusual for seasoned employees, experts in their field who should be applauded for the fortitude involved with a lifelong climb up the corporate ladder of success, to suddenly confront ageism (Cohen, 2001; Gleberzon, 2002; Kelchner, 1999; Whitbourne & Hulicka, 1990). Akin to the other destructive "isms" that are culturally perpetuated, such as racism and sexism (Lee, 2005; Leo, 1991), in which groups of people are collectively deemed inferior, ageism is the discriminatory attitude of exclusion toward the elderly. The legal parameters set forth by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) (Burke & Wilson, 2005–2006; Flynn, 2002; Seligman, 1999) prohibit ageism within a professional domain and mandate that supervisory decisions be made on the basis of ability rather than chronological age. Nevertheless, the youth-oriented ideals that infiltrate mainstream culture permeate our everyday existence, as reflected through media references that characterize beauty (Gosselink, Cox, McClure, et al. 2008), the preferential treatment that fresh-faced graduates on the brink of success receive (Tysome & Hill, 2005), and the prevalence of faulty assumptions and stereotypes that are placed on people because of their senior status (Elleman, 1995).
These influences are a massive force with which to contend, and many people who hold such biases find it difficult to confine them during nine-to-five business hours. As such, ageism is a reality that many mature adults grapple with on a regular basis, a struggle that is frequently overlooked. Of the relatively small number of ageist claims that are legally documented, only a small number are fully executed under litigious auspice; in 2002, 19,921 cases were filed, but just 29 concluded with formalized legal resolve (Dennis & Thomas, 2007). In part, this staggering discrepancy demonstrates the difficulty people have in substantiating the premise that such age-related partiality is authentic. For example, let us say that Mr. Smith is on the hiring board of a large-scale corporation and is interviewing two potential candidates for a managerial position. Both candidates have identical qualifications, profound insight regarding the future direction of the company, and positive personality traits. However, Frank appears to be significantly older than his counterpart, Dan. Upon receiving a carefully crafted letter of regret from Mr. Smith, informing him that his services will not be required due to the surplus of qualified applicants for the position, Frank may intuitively believe that age discrimination played a pivotal role in the final decision, but he will find it hard to corroborate this belief with factual evidence.
Moreover, "ageist stereotypes depict mature workers as less energetic, technically outdated, slow, less productive, rigid, unwilling to change, uninterested in learning, technology- and computer-phobic, susceptible to physical ailments and less able to learn" (Reio & Sanders-Reio, 1999, p. 2). For some senior citizens, such intolerance might prematurely lead them to the door of retirement, while others might feel that they are thrust in this direction through the pressure of mandatory retirement (Bernstein, 1985; Gander & Signal, 2008; Lawrence, 2008), an archaic, societally driven injunction that regulates a person's retirement at a predetermined age. Some experts feel that mandatory retirement itself meets the criteria of ageism by making widespread, sweeping assumptions about a large pool of individuals, and this belief has inspired certain organizations such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (Reilly & Tipton, 2005) to conduct performance tests that indicate each person's readiness to retire instead of relying on a subjective and arbitrarily fixed age.
Fiscally speaking, there has been tremendous speculation surrounding the durability of Social Security (Krugman, 2004; McCormally, 2005; Wegner, 2001) and the potential inability to retrieve benefits due to an uncertain or failed system. Prior to the creation of Social Security in 1935 (Roosevelt, 1935), citizens engaged in formal employment for the duration of their lives; however, at the onset of the Great Depression, worldwide destitution became the norm, forging a path of poverty and hardship. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's signature on the Social Security Act helped grant security to the impoverished elderly by establishing a safety net to use after years of stockpiling a small portion of their salaries into a secure fund. Older workers were phased out of the labor force, ensuring that younger generations entering into the workforce could flourish. Throughout much of the 20th century, the public perception of Social Security was quite favorable, as people perceived it as a means to safeguard their financial well-being. However, starting in the 1990s, public scrutiny surrounding the future of Social Security came to the forefront (Quadagno, 1999).
In particular, three factors fuel speculation on the future of Social Security (McCardle, 2008), the first of which touches upon demographics of the baby-boom generation, the oldest of which began to reach retirement age around 2008. This cohort began to be born at the end of World War II, and as the name "baby boom" (Maples & Abney, 2006) suggests, the combined elements of numerous military personnel arriving home to their loved ones and the conclusion of a gloom-and-doom era gave rise to a burst in both financial prosperity and birth rates. The dawn of the baby-boom generation commenced, and for the next 18 years, an influx of offspring densely populated society. When the time came for the baby boomers to find employment, they did so fervently, displaying a strong work ethic and high levels of productivity (Murray, 2004). The loss of their presence in the workforce due to retirement represented a significant deficit.
The other factors contributing to Social Security's indeterminacy are the low birth rate that characterized the cohort directly following the baby boomers, Generation X (Hyde, 1997), and the fact that through the process of advanced technological and medical advancements, people are living much longer; the life expectancy in the United States was 78.7 in 2011 (Hoyert & Xu, 2012), whereas in 1935 it was 63 (Social Security, 2005). The combination of increased longevity and fewer employees paying into the Social Security system provides the following bleak forecast: a profusion of healthy senior citizens who have retired from the workforce and are depleting the U.S. treasury fund through normative lifestyle expenses, while the remaining generations are comparatively small in magnitude and cannot compensate for what is being withdrawn. Hence, government sources predicted in 2012 that the Social Security fund would expire in 2033 (Fichtner, 2012), generating a heightened level of apprehension in seniors regarding the illusion of economic security they had been promised.
Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development
Integral to fully understanding the dynamics involved with retirement are the philosophical underpinnings put forth by prominent developmental theorists such as Erik Erikson (Kishton, 1994). Freud (Garcia, 1995) and Adler (Blatt, 1999), who predated Erikson, also formulated renowned theories surrounding human development that emphasized milestones throughout one's formative years. In contrast, Erikson took a more comprehensive focus by unearthing the maturation process as it unfolded from "womb to tomb." Essentially, Erikson sectioned off each developmental phase through which people progress—infancy, toddlerhood, early childhood, later childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle adulthood, and late adulthood—and indicated a particular obstacle, or "crisis," within each timeframe that seeks to be mastered (Graves & Larkin, 2006; Santrock, 1992). Based on a compilation of numerous influences (e.g., environmental, temperamental), each obstacle may or may not be overcome; because Erikson's theory is a sequentially oriented stage model, the remnants of either a successful or an unproductive transaction will affect subsequent stages. For example, infancy, the first stage in Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, proclaims that the crisis with which babies contend surrounds "trust vs. mistrust " (Sneed, Whitbourne, & Culang, 2006), based upon the interaction that is forged with their primary caregivers; this degree of trust, then, follows them into each successive life stage.
The two psychosocial stages that pertain most closely to retirement are stage seven, generativity vs. stagnation (Slater, 2003), and stage eight, integrity vs. despair (Torges, Stewart, & Duncan, 2008). People in the midst of stage seven range roughly between the ages of 40 and 65 years, and the crisis such individuals confront relates to the amount that they "give back" to younger generations by offering guidance, mentorship, or parenting. In this stage, they are able to pass along the pearls of wisdom and value structures that they themselves have acquired throughout the course of their younger years, thus guaranteeing their own legacy. If this crisis is not properly resolved, people run the risk of becoming ego-centric and solely consumed with their own personal affairs, which eventually transpires into idle stagnancy.
A common and meaningful course of action that retirees adopt is the accruement of volunteer experience at the end of their paid professional careers (Erlinghagen & Hank, 2006; Kanchier, 2002; Pope, 2008; Rimer, 1999; Schellenberg, Turcotte, & Ram, 2005). Thirty percent of these experiences directly relate to helping youth, by assuming roles such as tutoring or coaching (Caro & Bass, 1995). An example of a person satisfying this developmental desire can be seen in Alice Sample, a former kindergarten teacher who did not lose her predilection for educational advocacy upon retirement. Gripped with foresight surrounding the positive effects that early reading programs have on...
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