The social concept of retirement is the same age as the oldest Baby-Boomers, created in the early 20th century as a way to move older, slower and more infirm workers out of the factories. As Baby-Boomers today reach the traditional age of retirement, the term retirement, and all it represents, has too many negative connotations with its strong link to the end of life and does not reflect the reality of their lives. Comments like “I hate having to check the retired box” and “I’m not really retired – I’m still working” are common. So, what should we call this next stage of life if it’s not traditional retirement?
In the 1980’s Peter Laslett at Cambridge University recognized that as life expectancy grew, another lifestage was emerging – one after traditional family and career-focused adulthood and before decline-to-death, old-age retirement. He coined this stage the Third Age in a Four Age Model:
|First Age (0-25)||Second Age (25-50)||Third Age (50-75)||Fourth Age (75-100)|
Laslett described this lifestage as one with reduced responsibility yet continued health and vitality. Traditional life-of-leisure retirement was the reward for years of hard work and supported with pensions, Social Security and the emergence of retirement communities. This new Third Age was one with freedom from the responsibility that comes from children being launched, old goals being accomplished, or careers being topped out, but still with a desire for activity and productivity.
The reality of 50-75 today is life doing a wide range of interests and activities. Many Boomers have financial needs or a desire to keep the mind active and continue to work in their field with full-time employment, part-time consulting, or teaching. Some explore encore careers, turning life-long passions, put-aside dreams, or new interests into second income-producing careers. Some explore a world of adventure or learning new skills. Many are giving back, volunteering their time and talents. And yes, some live the traditional life of leisure with a calendar full of activities. But very few retire into a slower, infirm way of living. The term retirement was created for the end of life Fourth Age, not the reality of this Third Age.
Even though Shakespeare said “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet,” the term Third Age does not reflect the exciting uniqueness of this emerging lifestage. Other terms like second adulthood, un-retirement, non-retirement, semi-retired, and even rewire have all been proposed in various books and blogs. I say, let’s give it a real name all its own – let’s call it sesquiescence, ala adolescence.
Sesqui refers to one half more. Essence is a derivative of Latin for becoming. So sesquiescence is becoming one half more – being in the second half of your life.
The term adolescence was created in the early 20th century for the emerging lifestage between childhood and adulthood as children were no longer becoming part of the workforce or marrying at young ages. Today the adolescent lifestage is widely accepted. Adolescence and sesquiescence also have commonalities. Both have a search for friends to be an extended family. Adolescents want to separate from “family” to create their own identity while sesquiescents deal with a separation from the work family. Both are in discovery mode to answer the questions who am I, what should I do with my life, and what is my body capable of doing?
The emerging lifestage in the beginning of the 21st century is not retirement. It is sesquiescence. A beginning of the second half of life where you can do it different, maybe do it better, but definitely do it, not retire.