Turning a page

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Steve Kelman reflects on his impending retirement.

I am just turning 75. First a status update. I am very pleased to report that I have no real aches and pains. My main debility is some trouble walking—I can walk, but with a shuffle that frustrates me. I also get tired more often and need to rest. But I don’t think, when I am just sitting down doing stuff, I generally feel any differently from how I felt when I was 25. I will add that my memory is definitely not as good as it used to be. So I want friends who are getting up in years to know that graceful aging is possible.

A larger issue is how we in the U.S. approach getting older compared with in other countries.  In France there have been violent protests over a proposal to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64! From the accounts I've read, it sort of seems, maybe to put it unfairly, that many French don't want to work very much. A new book I am reading by a famous Chinese author notes that "almost everyone in our college class has already retired, there are only a few of us born in the early 1960s who are still working." In Sweden, where the retirement age is 66, when somebody turns 69 their employer can force them to retire.

In academia in particular and in the U.S. more generally I think, relatively few people born in the early 1960s are retired. I was born in 1948, and I am retiring this year. And after I retire, I will continue to teach executive education classes four times a year in our program for GS-15s and colonels (several of my colleagues teaching in executive education classes are older than I am, including one who continued to teach until a month before he died at age 97). I also intend to continue to go into the office twice a week for our weekly faculty research seminar and our informal Friday faculty lunches. The main changes in my life after I retire will be not having to go to faculty meetings and to increase my time at our apartment in Miami from three to six weeks a year. I also plan to do volunteer tutoring reading with one or two immigrant children.

In the U.S., the debate has been the opposite from a push for early retirement. For most professions, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act makes compulsory retirement illegal. About 30% of working Americans continue to work after the age of 66, though some of this is surely because they need to work to support themselves rather than a preference for continuing to work (and a fair number of blue-collar workers do retire in their early sixties for reasons of poor health).

I have now written my blog The Lectern, recently rebranded as a “commentary,” since I left the government in 1997, so over 25 years. I am endlessly grateful to FCW for this opportunity, and my health and mental acuity permitting, hope to continue to do this for many years to come.