Before taking a closer look at ‘retirement’, let’s check out some of the changes that have occurred during my lifetime. When I was growing up in the 1930s and early 40s, life expectancy was much shorter than it is now. Remember that was just before World War II. Guys hoped to make it ’til 65, or perhaps a little longer. On average women lived a little beyond that. My dad made it to 68. My mother lived to 80. People seldom made it into their 90s, much less to 100.
Technology was a lot different then. It took three days to get from New York to Europe by boat and about the same time to get from Penn Station to San Francisco by train. There were no jet planes and no Interstates. At the end of the period the first of the antibiotics, natural penicillin, was just introduced. Long-distance calls were placed through an operator. We had radios, newspapers and the movies, but no TVs, computers, the Internet or iPhones. My guess is that for most of you it is pretty hard to imagine what life was like.
For the most part guys were expected to get a job and bring home the money to support the family. The primary role of women was taking care of the family and the household. Some had jobs as secretaries or nurses. World War II introduced us to Rosie the Riveter. Job opportunities for women increased markedly during and after the War.
Here’s how those conditions affected the retirement years. As a guy, your adult life has been spent working full-time at a job that you didn’t necessarily like just to bring in the income necessary to support the family. Women took care of the family and the household, and perhaps the grandkids in their later years. Both expected to live a few years longer at most. If they were from moderate or low income families, they probably were unable to set aside funds for future spending. Sometimes money for current expenses had to come from their children’s current income. The Social Security system — at the time it was known as Old Age Benefits (OAB) — had just come into play. Any income from it helped support those who reached their retirement years — a few years at best.
World War II and postwar periods were prosperous times. Significant technological changes brought along with them new products and new processes of production. Good jobs were available — both for men and women. The G.I. Bill of Rights covered some of the college expenses of previous members of the armed forces. College education opened up new job opportunities and, in some cases, entry into a profession, along with the good salaries that came along with them. The changes in the health-care system led to a longer life expectancy. That was in marked contrast to the pre-World War II era when we were in the midst of the Great Depression. Continue reading “Revisiting Retirement”