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Whom does retirement serve? Certainly not the elderly, is the conclusion to be drawn from Professor Graebner's (History, State Universtiy College, Fredonia, N.Y.) account. Working with documents available in federal and professional agency archives, Graebner convincingly shows how laissez-faire capitalism, with individual employers deciding each employee case, ceded to the demands of corporate capitalism for a more efficient (read younger) labor force. In the early 1900s, the state itself became involved as governmental authority was brought in to further encourage productivity--by 1930, civil service workers in six states and in the federal government were subject to new pension laws; and in Depression America, the government created the 1935 Social Security Act largely to reduce unemployment by replacing older workers with younger ones. This governmental push, justified by efficiency experts who saw the aging worker as superannuated, was opposed by some businessmen who still clung to more informal and paternalistic practices. ""It was the function of retirement legislation to sever these ties, break the bonds of informality, and usher in the contractual society."" According to Graebner, by the 1950s the legislation of the 1930s had developed into a full-scale ideology as retirement became a commodity and leisure the age-appropriate behavior. Why then the current opposition to uniform retirement? Graebner points to further modifications in American capitalism; to the realization that forced retirement did not markedly increase efficiency; and, most importantly, to the simple fact that retirement as a system has become too costly to support. He thus sees older people today as once again being used ""to service the needs of larger and more powerful elements of the population."" With a sharp eye throughout on the interaction of social forces, a good antidote to more sanguine sociological studies of policy and aging.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1980
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press