I bet you would agree that’s a pretty crazy statement, right?

Well, those are not my words.

They are the words of the U.S. Federal Government who, in 1980, argued before the Supreme Court that the retirement age for railroad workers should be set at 65 because:

“it is a commonplace fact that physical ability, mental alertness, and cooperativeness tend to fail after man is 65.”

In all fairness to the U.S. Federal Government, for most of this past century, people have been arguing that 65 is the dawn of disease and decline.

In her book, The Evolution of Retirement, the Economist Dora Costa, cites the following:

  • In 1905, Professor Osler, a physician at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, argued that all men should retire at the age of 60 because of the loss of mental flexibility.
  • The economist William Beveridge contended that older workers could not keep pace with technological change as they lacked adaptability (don’t for one second buy into this- it’s been proven to be inaccurate)
  • The statistician, Frederick Hoffman, asserted that the age of productivity encompassed the years between 15 and 65. All other years were deemed unproductive.
  • Isaac Rubinow, a pioneer of the American social security movement, proclaimed that 65 should be regarded as old.

Not an encouraging picture for mature workers! Nor an accurate depiction of today’s reality.

Now that we are living longer and healthier lives, 65 does not make all that much sense as a retirement age. And yet it seems to be ingrained in our personal psyches and organizational cultures.

In my research investigating what factors lead people to continue working beyond 65 or opt for retirement, I was surprised to discover that many people who expressed that they are at the height of their careers and love their work, were choosing to retire at, or before, 65.

When I inquired as to whether their productivity had decreased, they said no. When I asked if someone else had told them they were not meeting performance standards, they ALL said no.

So why are people, who love their jobs, retiring at 65?

I suspect it has a lot to do with 65 being the original age at which people collected social security benefits.

And Sixty-five was chosen by the German Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck, because life expectancy in Germany was 45, so very few people were expected to live until 65, which meant that the state would not have to support all that many people in their old age!

The rest of us just followed suit and adopted 65 as the official retirement age.

It’s time to raise the retirement age. For fiscal and cultural reasons.

In North America, many of us can anticipate living well into our 70s, 80s, and even 90s. From a financial perspective, most us cannot afford to work for 30 years and then fund a 30-year retirement.

But it also makes little sense from a lifestyle perspective. Retiring to a life leisure made sense when retirement encompassed five years. But a 30-year long retirement, characterized by leisure and consumption, is not sustainable. At least not for most of us.

You really need to consider WHY you are retiring.

If you want to retire at 65 because you don’t like your work, or there are other passions you want to pursue, then, by all means, do so providing you can afford it.

My job is not to tell you when to retire.

But my work does encompass helping people establish goals and realistic expectations for this next life phase. And my findings indicate that a substantial number of people retire, only to realize they miss the social, emotional and cognitive stimulation that work provides.

This is how, Amy, one of my study participant’s, described her return to work at 71, after 11 years of retirement:

“When I was retired I used my brain a little bit. My social worker skills went to sleep during those years… I can’t begin to tell you how happy I was when I returned to work. And my attitude was much better. Not that my attitude was bad- I don’t have a bad attitude. But I felt vibrant. Work was exciting. When I would go out to work and then come home, I’d feel so good about myself. I’m telling you I was reborn, reconnected, revitalized. And My brain came back to life.”

When it comes to working beyond the traditional age of retirement, there is no reason to believe that at 65 you are on a downward spiral towards disease and decline. In fact, science has discovered that there are many brain benefits to working beyond 65. Read my blog- beware of early retirement- for further details.

If you are choosing to retire just because you happen to turn 65 and believe it’s time to go, then I encourage you to dig a little deeper and really think about why you are leaving.

Don’t make it about an arbitrary, outdated retirement age.

This blog post originally appeared on www.rewiretoretire.com and was reprinted with permission.

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