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The Unbearable Lightness of Being Retired

  • Michelle Pannor Silver (a1)


In this qualitative study, I followed an approach to examine perceptions about retirement, using an interview guide informed by the life course perspective, among 26 men and women who had retired from positions as chief executive officers. Three key themes emerged: (1) the importance of productivity and networking as participants rose up the corporate ladder; (2) the sense of having a “best before” date and experiencing societal pressures to retire; and (3) struggles with feeling insignificant in retirement while desiring personal fulfillment through continued engagement in paid work. These findings shed light on the value of using a life course perspective to examine retirement as both a personal experience and as a social phenomenon. Findings also contribute to theoretical understandings of productive aging by illustrating how preconceptions about productivity contrast with ideations of a leisure-filled retirement in ways that can foreshorten the employment contributions of some individuals.

Dans cette étude qualitative, j’ai utilisé une approche fondée sur la gérontologie narrative pour examiner les perceptions liées à la retraite dans un groupe de 26 hommes et femmes qui ont pris leur retraite après un mandat de chef de la direction. Le guide d’entrevue a pris en compte la perspective du parcours de vie. Trois thèmes clés ont émergé : 1) l’importance de la productivité et du réseautage, alors que les participants gravissaient les échelons de l’entreprise ; 2) le sentiment d’avoir une date « meilleur avant » et d’avoir cédé aux pressions de la société en faveur de la retraite ; et 3) l’impression troublante de se sentir insignifiant à la retraite tout en ayant le désir de poursuivre l’épanouissement personnel en continuant à travailler contre rémunération. Après une carrière marquée par des réalisations pionnières, les participants ont éprouvé un sentiment insoutenable de légèreté lors de l’abandon des responsabilités professionnelles. Ces résultats mettent en lumière l’importance de la perspective de parcours de vie pour examiner la retraite à la fois comme une expérience personnelle et un phénomène social. Les résultats contribuent également à la compréhension théorique du vieillissement productif en illustrant comment les idées préconçues sur la productivité contrastent avec les aspirations associées à une retraite remplie de loisirs, d’une manière qui pourrait réduire les contributions à l’emploi de certaines personnes.


Corresponding author

La correspondance et les demandes de tirés-à-part doivent être adressées à : / Correspondence and requests for offprints should be sent to: Michelle Pannor Silver, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Department of Sociology, Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society University of Toronto Scarborough 1265 Military Trail Toronto, ON M1C1A4 (


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