A Great Time To Be Alive

In “The Evolution of Retirement, 1880-1990,” Dora Costa argues that increased income and poor health are no longer the reasons why American men retire.

They used to be. Costa traces the beginning of large-scale retirement in the U.S. to Union Army veterans, who were given pensions by a nation grateful for their sacrifices in the Civil War (Confederate soldiers received no assistance).

And while the annual amount for that pensioner seems low by modern standards ($135 per year), it amounted to over half the annual income of farm workers of the era.

But, according to Costa, rising income is no longer the reason most people retire. “Increasing numbers of retirees are citing a preference for leisure as their main motivation of leaving the labor force.”

Costa says today’s retirees have more options (everything from golf to watching movies) at increasingly low prices (both golf and theatre were once perks for the rich and even yesterday’s very rich could not experience the cruises of today).

And modern retirees have the health to enjoy this leisure for a substantially longer period (20 to 30 years for some).

So it’s a great time to be alive. Any one of those Union vets would have changed places with any one of us in a heartbeat.

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