The Transition to Retirement: A Problem or a Resource?

1. The Reasons Behind the Research

In the early 1950s most old people did not have a seniority pension1 and the levels of active employment remained high even after age 65. Today instead, the vast majority of the elderly, particularly males, do have seniority or old age pensions. Also in 1950-51 average life expectancy and the average retirement age coincided, both being at around 65 years. Currently the former is calculated to be around 78 years, while the latter is, as a rule, below 60.
This intertwining of these facts means that currently, not only does the ending of working lives on reaching a determined age concern the vast majority of people, but so also does the fact that the period following it is not short. On one hand this creates new social scenarios, and on the other the very ‘mental maps’ with which individuals plot their own lives. It is relevant therefore to analyze how this passage is experienced and what resulting expectations and critical situations develop, so as to better prepare adequate strategies and make the period following retirement a resource both for individuals and for the community.
The research2 carried out during 20043 on 1000 subjects aged between 50 and 65, retired or still employed, all resident in Lombardy, and which we present in the following pages, is centred on this scenario.4
We have concentrated on this age group as we were interested in gathering experiences of the retirement period in the years immediately following retirement or in those immediately preceding it. As a rule it is between the ages of 50 and 65 that one gives up the role of the active person who produces and contributes to the creation of wealth. This passage is crucial for those who have strongly identified with their work and have had a ‘career’ within which they have found self-realization. However it is also important for those who primarily experience effort, constrictions and obligations in work (Accornero, 1997). Certainly, in the first case retirement is seen above all as the end of a strong and structured identity and the subsequent life phase can be seriously problematical, viewed as an ‘empty’ time, difficult to overcome. In the second case, the end of work is viewed as the end of constrictions and the availability of the time thus obtained when one can finally dedicate oneself to areas of one’s life considered more important. Both cases however, relate to a fundamental transition that requires a further reworking.
Besides its impact on the individual identity and the use of time however, retirement also impacts on income, often resulting in its decrease. In other cases instead, especially in the context of widespread ‘informal’ economy, for those who have competences which can be used in those areas, the end of ‘formal’ working activity can bring with it the passage to a more blurred working situation and the addition of income gained from ‘informal’ work to that of the pension, thus permitting an overall increase in economic resources obtained. On the other hand, in Italy the existence of the Severance Indemnity lump sum means that this amount set aside during their working lives is also available to individuals. In some cases these are limited amounts, in others the amount can be considerable and allows those who receive it a certain economic liquidity (Pace e Pisani, 1999; Maltby et al.:, 2003).
The period around the age of 60 however is also marked by important changes in family roles: the role of ‘child’ changes or ceases, the role of parent changes. On one hand, since life expectancy is currently around 77 years, the average age at which children ‘lose’ their parents is between 50 and 60 years. On the other hand since the age at which young people become economically independent and form their own family nucleus occurs around 30 years (Barbagh et al., 2003, Facchini and Villa, 2005). their parents are usually around 60 years old when these events occur. Around the age of 60, with the loss of parents a strong point of reference to their past is also lost and with the ‘adultness’ of the children their own role in the family changes. The intertwining involved results in the redefinition of their own position within family relationships. They are no longer the middle generation; instead they become the older generation. They are no longer contemporaneously children and parents, but they become parents-grand parents. This double passage in its turn, impacts on conjugal relations, necessitating a redefinition of the roles and relations of the couple (Barnes, 2004).
Late adult age therefore is characterized by an overlapping of changes and one of budgets, crucial to the redefinition of personal identity (Neugarten and Moore, 1974). This allows, and at the same time necessitates both a comprehensive stocktaking of one’s own past choices, and a rethinking of one’s future, in a kind of budgeting. Today this last aspect is even more crucial due to the widespread awareness of the increase in life expectancy, as a result of which around the age of 60 there is the likelihood of twenty more years of life, a good part of which will be lived in good health and reasonable economic conditions. If in the past the ‘short’ period subsequent to retirement made it unnecessary to plan strategies for living it to the best, the current awareness that we are dealing with a period likely to be ‘long’ makes early planning of strategies on how to use this period not only possible but essential. Therefore retirement and the children’s departure from home can also be positive opportunities for making plans. Often these can involve taking up some of those activities which, because of work and family responsibilities had not been possible during adult life (Laslett, 1989; Friedan, 1993; Gaullier, 1998; Tramma, 2000; Guillemard, 2002; Billé, 2004; Facchini and Rampazi, 2006).
At the same time the subjects interviewed belong, though with important internal variations5, to the generation most involved in the modernization processes in our recent history, in which they have played a part. They are people therefore, touched, albeit in often unclear or fragmentary ways, by the modernization processes, by the ‘laicization’ of social life, by the fall of the old certainties (Touraine, 1994; Giddens, 1999) and by having to face the new precariousness (Bauman, 1995; Beck, 1999). They are people who only with difficulty take (or have taken) their identity for granted, who relate to widespread social change and to the problems related to it, including through processes of individual reasoning and reflection (Crespi, 2004).
Today’s 50-65 year olds therefore, are, on the whole people who not only have crucial problems redefining their own identity, but who experience such problems in completely new ways compared to previous generations. Not only does the manner in which changes occur have an effect on how individual lives are led, but so too do economic and cultural resources as well as the ‘social capital’ at their disposal. Having a satisfactory income and a relative certainty of guaranteeing it even after retirement allows subjects to face the end of their working role with a greater peace of mind compared to those who might fear a decrease in an already modest income. Living in a family context, marked by loving relationships full of meaning presumably facilitates not only the various transitions in the course of a family life, but also the transition to retirement. Being part of a rich and diversified network of friends constitutes an important fundamental support in daily life, but is still more important in critical situations in which subjects must redefine their roles and their personal indentity (Bolwby, 1989).

2. The Different Generation Profiles

If the period around the age of 60 is seen as marked by a plurality of transitions, it is nevertheless evident that neither the times nor the scansions with which these transitions occur are homogenous.
The role played by the ways in which working and family life are constructed is considerable. First and foremost, retirement age is strictly linked to when one began to work, to one’s sphere of work and professional position, and to the amount of work not covered by welfare compared to that covered by payments of contributions. This is especially so in our country where most retirement packages have, in recent decades been tied to the attainment of a determined length of working service, rather than to the attainment of a specific biographical age. Fundamental to this point are social position, the generation to which one belongs and gender. Entry into the labour market occurred, as has been seen, very early for the generations born in the first decades of last century, especially among those who came from disadvantaged families. Instead for those born in the 1940s and 1950s, especially if they belonged to families in better social conditions, it occurred at an older age (Schizzerotto, 2002). With regard to ‘gender’ it is enough to remember that women were more often employed in sectors characterized by particularly favourable retirement packages (one thinks specifically of those who, in these generations enjoyed such packages, teachers and female workers in the public sector), which in many cases included notably early retirement.
Faced with this connection between generation, gender and social position and how working life scans out, the first aim of the research has been to trace the main distinctions.
Let us consider first of all the socio-professional condition of the subjects interviewed according to age group. 75.9% of the 50-55 year olds are employed, but only 41% of the 56-59 year olds, and only 4.6% of those over 60. 45.1% of the oldest women compared to 21.9% of the youngest men have at best an elementary school leaving certificate; 17.2% of the former and 38.4% of the latter have a high school diploma or degree. These trends hearken back to the varied collective ‘history’ of the different generations of the elderly and to the fact that for the beginning among the lower social classes early on the schooling processes concerned only males. Only later were they extended to females.
The data relating to schooling are interlinked with those relating to entry into the labour market and to the profession practised. Concerning the former, entry into the labour market was, as a rule very early. Overall 26.5% began to work before the age of 15, 27.1% between the ages of 15 and 16, 21.7% between the ages of 17 and 20 and only 18.1% after that age7. Once more the differences were very great depending on the level of education, sex and age group. Those who were at best elementary school leavers almost always began work before the age of 16 — but often even before 14. Those instead who had a higher level of schooling entered the working world at a older age level. On the other hand ‘extra early’ entry into the work place refers above all to the oldest generations, particularly women, among whom almost 20% began work before the age of 15. It was the youngest generations, above all the males, who began work later. Among these almost a quarter began work after 20 years of age.
Early entry into the labour market often meant a long employment service. 8.5% worked for over 40 years, 36.2% 36-40, 30.3% 31-35; almost 20% between 10 and 20, and only 5% for less than 20 years. These however, are only the average figures including those from people still in work, who haven’t yet completed their working history. If, more correctly only those who have retired are considered then we see that 6.6% of men, and 30.3% of women have worked less than 30 years and; for those who have worked over 40 it is 5.8% and 7.6%. The data also show important differences depending on age group: men, epecially, the oldest ones have longer working lives while women, especially those less old have shorter working lives. It is important to underline that despite the fact that the greater part of the working lives of those interviewed had been contractually and welfare protected, periods of unofficial, or at least unprotected work were not infrequent. In fact 7.4% had had 1-2 years of undeclared work, 9.7% had had it for 3-5 years, 7.6% for at least 6 and finally 6.2% had such periods but could not remember for how long. In total a little over 30% had had periods of unofficial employment, but this percentage rate is greater among women who had experienced even longer periods
Concerning employment status the most common occupations were those of clerical worker and labourer (respectively 27.7% and 27%) followed by those of teacher and executive (7.6% and 6.8%). There were few trades people, craftsmen or self-employed people8. In this regard too there were marked differences, depending on level of education, age group, and even more so, gender. As is easily understandable graduates or those with generally higher levels of education were employed above all as executives or clerical workers (around 80%), while those with more modest education worked mainly as unskilled labour and as farm labourers (around 75%). However what is most interesting to note is that even among those in clerical positions there was a sizeable number with modest educational qualifications — almost 10% of those who were, at best, elementary school leavers, and almost 40% of those having a middle school leaving certificate10.
Early entry into the labour market and long extensions of welfare covered work translate into widespread seniority pensions, which 81% of those interviewed in retirement possess, and into a small number of old age and invalidity pensions. Obviously the relationship between contributive seniority and age group is a strong one. Seniority pensions relate to only 52.1% of those who have a modest contributive seniority, but to 74.1% of those who have an average seniority and 82.8% of those who have a contributive seniority of more than 35 years. Although most of the work histories of those interviewed took place within a welfare covered structure, periods of contributory evasion are not infrequent and these will effect pension cover. Among those who have had periods of undeclared work, especially if they were long, seniority pensions, though still existing for the majority, become less frequent (70.1% against the average of 75.6%) while there is an increase in old age pensions and particularly reversionary and invalidity pensions, which rarely occur among those who have had only structured work situations.
If age and working protection are the factors which most influence the type of pension received, level of education and professional positioning are those most relevant when it comes to determining income received. As easily guessed, the most substantial incomes are mainly earned by those subjects with the most skilled professional positions and with the greatest education11. Poverty levels therefore appear fairly limited, and relate mainly to the female population in the older age groups. The factors responsible for the economic weakness of women are different, especially among the oldest (Facchini, 2000): greater frequency in poorly qualified jobs, due in its turn, at least in part, to lower levels of education undertaken; more widespread jobs in the less contractually protected work sector (one thinks of domestic helpers), or less well paid work (such as the textile industry); shorter work spans, often linked to the female’s responsibility for care and management of the home. The point that must be made here is that on average, women’s pensions are inferior to those of men.

Carla Facchini: University of Milan-Bicocca.
1 It was only in the 1950s that the pension was set up for tradesmen and craftsmen as well as for farm workers, who in 1951 still made up almost half those in employment.
2 The research was promoted by the Associazione Nestore di Milano and was partly financed by Regione Lombardia and the Fondazione Caripio. Cf Facchini, 2006.
3 The sample is characterized by a total homogeneity among the population of reference with regard to professions, family typology, sex, age group and education. Moreover it is representative of the various territorial areas of Lombardy both in geographic terms and the demography of the communities.
4 The subjects taking part in the research were chosen by random sampling and interviewed by telephone using the CATI method which, with an excellent cost/benefit ratio, allows the researcher to reach those who live in even small communities.
5 Since schooling and industrialization occurred in Italy only in 1950s-1960s this mainly involved the current 50-54 year olds (who at that time were still young children) rather than the current 60 -64 year olds who instead, had often, if only by a short time, already completed their education and had already entered the world of work. This means that in the age group considered by us, not only do different cohorts, but even different generations co-exist Gilleard and Higgs, 2002; Facchini and Rampazi, 2008). In analyzing data we must bear in mind that if some differences between one and another are to be read in terms of ‘age group’, other differences should be read in the light of the different generational histories.
6 Since gender and professional position constitute the main central threads of our analysis, from these two variables a third one has been created which has four groups, employed men, retired men, employed women, retired women. 17.4% of the sample are in the first group, 27.9% in the second 24.5% in the third, and 30.2% in the fourth.
8 In the sample, the relatively smaller amount of data concerning self employed is presumably due to their continued presence in the labour market beyond the formal retirement age, and therefore to the lesser likelihood of the interview centre contacting them at their homes.
9 Among women in the oldest age group manual work, especially unskilled, is particularly prevalent, while among the less old women there is in an increase in clerical workers and teachers. Among men, instead, there is a prevalence of skilled manual labourers on the one hand, and self employed on the other (tradesmen and craftsmen in the older age groups, self employed professionals among the younger). Territorial differences are small, though it is noticeable that the more qualified professions are mainly present in Milan and in provincial capitals.
10 Reading this fact together with those which show how few of those with higher education have practiced modest professions, it is clear how for these generations, not only has higher education, as a rule, guaranteed access to ‘good’ professional positions, but also how access to these positions hasbeen possible even in the absence of formal educational qualification.

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