I was recently asked about my retirement plans: Are you still working? When will you retire? This type of question is often an innocuous conversation starter, but it could be a conversation ender if asked of someone unprepared for the question. I’ve asked people this question myself, not thinking anything of it. But now that I’m a (Medicare) card-carrying senior citizen, I’m finding that it bothers me if strangers assume I’m retired.
But why? I don’t like to be seen as idle, and I don’t think I look like a retiree (whatever that is). I struggle to find a response that isn’t as rude as the question. Truth be told, I cannot afford to retire, as much as I’d like to. Barring something unforeseen, I will continue to work well into the future. Some of my disdain for the retirement question is the reminder that, unlike my friends, I did not prepare financially for later life. I feel there is elitism in asking someone about being retired—assuming any older adult has the privilege of leaving the workplace.
There is a slippery slope for an employer to ask when someone plans to retire. If they are trying to push the older worker out the door and hint at the employee’s age, it could lead to a discrimination suit. AARP writes that some terms are ageist and red flags: on the job, an employer can’t say they’re looking to “make room for the next generation,” or they’re looking for someone more “relatable” if they hope you’ll retire early.
As more of us are living longer and working until later in our lives, the question itself may get old. The next time I’m asked if I’m still working, I’ll say: kindly retire that question.
Pepper Evans works as an independent-living consultant, helping older adults age in place. She is the empty-nest mother of two adult daughters and has extensive personal and professional experience as a caregiver. She has worked as a researcher and editor for authors and filmmakers. She also puts her time and resources to use in the nonprofit sector and serves on the Board of Education in Lawrence Township, NJ.