On retirement

I think it was Marc Bosquet who pointed out that even if tenured faculty don’t work the way pretenured ones do, you have to consider that tenure is a sort of pension for people who before it, worked for the university for almost nothing during up to ten years of graduate school, and then for little more in visiting appointments and assistant professorships. In various professions you work for real money for 20 years and then retire feeling successful, but in academia you work for very little for 20 years and start receiving an annuity as you continue to work that 60 hour week.

That is one thing to say about retirement for academics at my level. In a way we are enslaved, but in a way we are already retired, drawing an annuity and working on things we find interesting.


I, for my part, spent my time up to about age 25 being expected to get married and retire from the workforce and life, so I was basically born having to fight the asphyxiating song don’t you just want to stay home? During the next five years I was expected not to pass my exams, finish my dissertation, or get a job; and during the next ten I was expected not to get tenure.

Meanwhile, sometime near tenure, people just a little older than me, 45ish people, started asking me whether I did not dream of retirement. I have always seen this as the next wave of the discouragement techniques — you won’t want a professional life, you won’t get one, you won’t keep one, and then once you do get to keep one, you should want to put it down.

I would still like to do some other PhDs and a JD, and I have a lot of projects to do. All of them involve work and being employed, not being retired and volunteering from the sidelines.

And if I were to retire at 59.5 as people seem to think I should hope to do, I would be able to live for about six years on my retirement income, maybe a little longer if I were careful, and that would be it; and my life expectancy is near 100.


Why is it that people talk to me about retirement “so you can do things you like” — do they know me at all? They are quick to correct and say they mean so I can have another job, but why do they want me to retire to take another job? Why can they not understand that if I took another job, part of the reason for doing so would be to increase salary, and that it would really be unwise to start drawing on retirement savings too early? And do they not realize, finally, that even if I were to retire as soon as I am old enough to start drawing on retirement funds, that time is still far away and I have much more to do than sit and wait for it?

What about you? Do you have friends who, already at 45, started talking about retirement and so on? I am hoping not.


9 thoughts on “On retirement

  1. I’m glad I’m retired now, because now I can choose my company and no one can control me. My patience with annoying and obstructionist or loony people is zero these days. I’ll watch their antics on sitcoms and TV debates, but otherwise I prefer my own company and that of selected friends and relatives.

    I don’t have money worries. And I did work until age 68. My husband still works. He likes his projects and is the last expert standing in this field so is much in demand. His tolerance for off the wall characters is greater than mine, but even he will probably retire next year when he turns 70.

    I think people should spend their middle years working hard and accomplishing things.

    1. Reading over the post, I am convinced all this discussion of retirement I have been getting since 40 is a technique of oppression. Only men and unemployed married women ever talk to me about how I should consider retirement. It is *so* weird because the minimum age for it is a long time away and was much longer away when I was 40. But it was at 40 that the onslaught began.

  2. 45? My cousin, the anti-Semite, can talk about nothing other than how he wants to retire and sail around the Caribbean with a model. And he is only 26. Of course, he blames all those evil Jews for appropriating all the resources in the world and not letting a guy like him retire already.

    I feel very sorry for people like this.

  3. Well, at least he is speaking for himself – as opposed to preach to others.
    But 26, yes, that really is a bit much! 😉

  4. Anybody talking about retirement at those ages is just punching a clock, don’t you think?

    Sure, retire at 59.5 and live on what, exactly, until your 95th birthday, if you have longevity genes as you do? And do what? Sit in a room and wait for the end for 40 years, since you would have to make the retirement savings last and couldn’t spend it on travel?

    I don’t get those people who talk about retirement.

  5. Clock punchers, I suppose so.

    Their theory is that from 59.5 to 95+ one would develop one’s second career. And I answer:

    1. One could reasonably eat up one’s retirement funds to start a second career at 30, 35, 40 even, but after that a second career start *has* to be funded on savings and retirement should not be eaten up. D.T.F.M. (do the “fucken” math).

    2. They are thinking of a lower key second career, not a higher or even equally powered one which would be the only thing I could countenance.

    1. Their theory is that from 59.5 to 95+ one would develop one’s second career.

      Hrm. I like my first career. 😉

  6. And now: I have found out that one of my earliest retiring friends is back working – at the institution he always wanted to be at!!!

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