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Definitions And Trends

The concepts family and retirement are understood by most people, yet scientific definitions of these concepts vary considerably. Definitions of family refer to household composition, common ancestry, childbearing and childrearing, and they can be restricted to nuclear family members (parents and their offspring) or can include other kin (Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Jugend und Familie 1999; Wingen 1997). Problems in defining retirement arise in regard to the exact timing of the retirement transition as well as the distinction between occupational retirement and withdrawal from the labor force (Ekerdt and DeViney 1990; Szinovacz and DeViney 1999). Some individuals retire gradually whereas others take up a second career in later life. Receipt of retirement benefits (Social Security, pensions) is not always tied to labor force withdrawal. Women may reject the retiree identity altogether due to their involvement in family work (Bernard et al. 1995; Onyx and Benton 1996).

The diversification of family experiences since the 1970s (especially increases in divorce and in women's labor force participation) has led to considerable variability in family structures (Teachman et al. 2000). These changes already shape retirement transition processes today and will become even more important as the post-World War II birth cohorts reach retirement age. For example, as more and more women participate in the labor force, more couples face the retirement of both spouses (Szinovacz and Ekerdt 1995).

Retirement as we know it today—the withdrawal of basically healthy individuals from the labor force at a certain age (typically between ages 55 and 65) and with the expectation of receiving Social Security and/or pension benefits—is a relatively new institution. In the United States, Social Security was created in 1935. Some European nations (for example, Germany) had already adopted old age pensions by the end of the nineteenth century, whereas many developing countries still lack public benefits for their elderly (Williamson and Pampel 1993). Prior to the creation of Social Security, old age economic security was often achieved through contributions from unmarried children, forcing some children to delay marriage and forego further education and, thus, the prospect of upward mobility. Those elderly who were unable to work and who could not rely on family funds sometimes found support from their communities and charities but were at considerable risk of poverty (Haber and Gratton 1994; Held 1982). In undeveloped countries that lack old age security programs, the elderly must still rely on their own wages and family support (Ngan et al. 1999; Social Security Administration 1999). Under these conditions, labor force participation often continues well into old age. For example, during the late 1990s,
75.7 percent of men aged sixty-five and over were still economically active in Zimbabwe as were 68.8 percent of men aged seventy to seventy-four in Bolivia and 52.7 percent of men aged sixty-five and over in Pakistan. This compares to 10.6 percent of men aged sixty-five and over in Canada, 1.9 percent in Belgium, and 14.7 percent in Poland (International Labour Office 1999). With the implementation of state- or employer-funded old age pensions, retirement has become an expected and accepted life transition. Social Security programs typically define windows for "normal retirement" based on individuals' age and employment history (Blöndal and Scarpetta 1998; Gruber and Wise 1999). However, generous provisions for "early" retirement and alternative pathways into retirement (e.g., through unemployment and disability benefits) resulted in a trend toward early retirement (Gruber and Wise 1999; Kohli et al. 1991).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaOther Marriage & Family TopicsRetirement - Definitions And Trends, Family Influences On The Retirement Transition, Family Influences On Postretirement Well-being