chapter  10
Parallel histories of retirement in modern Britain
ByPaul Johnson
Pages 15

Over the course of the twentieth century planned and anticipated retirement from employment has evolved in Britain from being an exceptional experience for a minority of privileged workers to being the commonplace experience of the majority. In 1901 over 60 per cent of males aged 65 and above were recorded in the census as being active in the labour force; today fewer than one in ten of this age group are still in paid work.1 At the end of Victoria’s reign only civil servants and the long-term employees of railway companies and a few other paternalistic employers qualified for an occupational pension, while the state provided nothing other than Poor Law relief to the destitute. Today half the workforce is enrolled in an occupational pension scheme, and virtually everyone is entitled to a state pension.2 At the turn of the century less than half of all 20 year olds could expect to survive to age 65; today average life expectancy at age 20 is well over 70 years for men, and higher for women.3 These massive changes to income, work and life chances at older ages have created a social group-variously referred to as pensioners, retirees and senior citizens-which is distinct in size, economic capacity, civil status and expectations, from the collectivity of older persons a century ago.