The close connection between old age and retirement and to what extent society accepts work-free retirement in old age emerged as the topical themes we know in France and Germany as late as the 1950s and 1960s. By analysing the relevant discussions in the labour circles of both countries the author examines whether this modern concept of retirement originated in the early phase of the welfare state. The concepts and points of criticism which each of the labour movements developed for old age provision show, by virtue of the different national mental attitudes, that their considerations about old age as a life phase diverged from one another to a great degree. The German labour movement believed that old age pensions were primarily a compensation for the reduction in income on reaching an advanced age, and it thus gave preference to the invalidity pension. In contrast, French society supported the idea of welfare security for the old. Along with criticisms of state social policies, the purpose of providing for the old is at the centre of the essay's analysis, more specifically the contrary forms this discussion took in Germany and France: obliged to work in old age or well-earned retirement.