Quaker Universalist Voice

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Universal Retirement

A Book Review of Michelle Silver, Retirement and Its Discontents: Why We Won’t Stop Working, Even If We Can (2018)

Part of being human is retirement, since retirement is only a moniker of later life transitions. Retirement is universal for all geographies and cultures, with a wide variety in roles and traditions for retirement.  As we do in our vocations, we retire or transition in our avocations, our relationships, and our activities. These transitions can be pleasant and easy or painful in complex ways.

Michelle  Silver, Retirement and Its Discontents: Why We Won’t Stop Working, Even If We Can (2018) focuses on the painful aspects of retirement. This book is the compilation of a series of consistently structured interviews with an unrepresentative group of people (physicians, CEOs, homemakers and athletes, but not financially poor or working-class persons) of many backgrounds and experiences in life’s transition into the final chapter of life.  

The author’s premise is that retirement is a big problem for most persons. The author is soft and vague in the offered conclusions. The author urges us to be creative in creating a retirement strategy with our resources.  There is little mention of public policy advocacy or concern for those without resources, and those not well served by retirement. 

The author provides good pictures of individuals in transition for our identification and reflection as we approach that transition in our own vocational lives.  These interviewees are humans dealing with a universal challenge of transitions at the end of life. The stories for reflection in these well recounted interviews are well worth the book purchase and some sustained time for reflection. 

Retirement in our culture is a subjective developmental transition in life work for the author.  We must be aware of the traditional and increasingly unjust cultural norms and expectations about retirement and the changes and opportunities in new productivity, vitality, and worthy contributions during retirement.

The demographics of the U.S. population is changing faster than the response of Quaker thought and services for seniors.  Liberal, conservative, and evangelical Quakers have little distinctive to offer.  This leaves Quaker seniors to fend for themselves.

The author advocates for the calibration of life work by using freedom and determined personal agency to deal with uncertainties, but the author offers an unclear and incomplete guide within the ambiguity of retirement and end-of-life realities.  That work is left to us.

An unexpected and interesting part of the book is a short history of the idea of retirement in western culture.  This history is surprising and provides historical and cultural context for assessing the many, rich interviews and stories in the book. 

Appendices provide a methodology overview of the interview process and an interview guide.  The author provides interesting endnotes, a solid bibliography, and an index.  

Quakers: There is no mention of Quakers in this book.   U.S. Quakers face the same challenge of retirement as do those of other religious traditions.

Retirement transitions are a small part of the universal, larger transitions of the final chapter in life. The end-of-life transition starts much earlier than the legal retirement age.  Quakers have had little to offer in the retirement transition or the end-of-life transition beyond respect for privacy for seniors in Quaker meetings and churches and following the general cultural gestures.  


  • How do Quakers respond to seniors approaching retirement?
  • What can Quakers distinctively offer for people facing vocational retirement?
  • How do current and emerging Quaker testimonies apply to retirement?
  • How can work be perpetual through retirement?
  • Where do Quakers seek assistance in facing retirement?
  • Do Quaker meetings and churches assist Quakers in navigating retirement?


Michelle Silver, Retirement and Its Discontents: Why We Won’t Stop Working, Even If We Can (2018)

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