There once was a time when society gave us a three-chapter, linear order in which to live: Learning. Labor. Leisure. Go to school, then go to work, then go RETIRE! Yippee! It used to be, back then, that we didn’t get to enjoy “retirement” for very long. For most of the twentieth century, if we retired at 65 or 70, we were lucky if we got ten years of it. Today, if a married couple both make their 65th birthdays, at least one of them is likely to be retired already, and there is a 25% chance that one of them will live to 100.
Instead of five to ten years of post-Labor years, most of us are looking at ten years as the minimum, and thirty or thirty-five years as a distinct possibility.
A Cambridge University historian, Peter Laslett, recognized this trend in the 1980s. Instead of a linear learning-labor-leisure model of life, people were beginning to mix up the three stages. 55-year-olds were taking their pensions and going back to school. Or, they were becoming part-time consultants to their old employers and taking up carpentry or gardening at the same time. What was going on? Laslett set out to describe a new life model. Instead of life “stages,” his model has “Ages.”
First Age – Dependence, Immaturity, Socialization
Second Age – Independence, Maturity, Responsibility
Third Age – Flexibility, Freedom, Fulfillment
Fourth Age – Dependence, Decrepitude, Death
The Third Age is Laslett’s term to describe a healthy 40-, 50- or 60-something who is past childrearing, and is increasingly attracted to work more for reasons of fulfillment than for money. The latter part of the Third Age would also include people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s who are still living independently.
Regardless, there are so many people mixing more Labor and Learning with their Leisure, the word “retirement” hardly makes sense anymore. My mother, for example, moved to a “retirement” community. In her “retirement,” she teaches an exercise class, attends courses at the local civic center, has volunteered for the emergency squad, and still remains active in arts and politics. No, she doesn’t have to report to a salaried job anymore, but “retired” doesn’t quite fit her active life. Whether it’s volunteering for a favorite local charity, working part-time in an old career or a brand new one, or even starting or buying existing businesses, life after the conventional “Labor” years can be far more fulfilling if the working part isn’t chucked out the window all together. While a few “retirees”-to-be I have met believe, after very demanding careers, all they want to do is play, I find that after two or three years of it, they typically sign up for something else to keep their mind occupied.
How about you? Know someone who has the Learning-Labor-Leisure formula figured out? Comment here and share your best ideas for other readers.