How do people experience their retirement?

Judging by the impressive number of publications on this topic, the “silver economy” is about to become an evergreen as unavoidable as a “pension system reform” by the government. But these economical and political prisms obscure the main facets of the pension topic. Because, it should be reminded, retirement remains a pensioner problem, first and foremost. How do individuals experience their transition from work to retirement? Why do some people fear it, while other people are impatiently waiting for it? What do they actually do with their retirement? Why do some people continue to work while other choose leisure? We tried to address those interrogations in our report.



Focusing on the identity dimension of retirement allows us to adopt the retirees' intimate and personal view of their situation. In fact, retirement can be experienced as an identity crisis: everything that has been built by and for work becomes obsolete as soon as it is over. In other words, work is so structuring that its absence raises questions, and confuses. For individuals, it is thus essential to regain control of an entirely new situation. To solve this crisis, individuals have different options: they either try to keep their professional identity while adapting it to new circumstances; or they try to recover an identity formed outside the professional world. The life course of individuals and social norms greatly influences the type of response provided, and thus the way of living retirement.


Society is less likely to grant individuals the right to retire than before the “glorious thirty”: retirement is no longer an unquestionable right (because it is deserved), but a privilege to be won and claimed. This puts pressure on pensioners: they are asked to rejuvenate, to be in good health and, ultimately, to play an active role in society. This leads to the invention of the concept of “seniors”; the real model of the active retiree. But from the point of view of individuals, retirement is experienced as a crisis: work is so structuring in life that its disappearance can be difficult to handle for them, who, at the time of retirement, experience what they describe as “empty” periods. To overcome this crisis, individuals orientate their retirement in different ways: they either continue to work or turn away completely. In any case, their answer is the result of an arbitration between new rights and especially new duties.

«“I was recognized, I had a pleasant lifestyle. I was traveling all week. I had hotels, restaurants, etc. You have something you are used to. You had your company car, you had... and all of that, overnight there is nothing.” Former sales manager.»


We met 15 retirees and analysed their life trajectories, career paths, transition from work to retirement and their daily life since that. By paying special attention to biographical illusions: as individuals tend to render paths coherent, although they are actually made up of accidents and coincidences, we vigilantly monitored each life stage described.


Literature review

Interviews with 15 people



Marc-Antoine Morier - Strategy & Anthropology

Graduated from the EHESS, Marc-Antoine shares his expertise in Sociology and Anthropology with companies. He joined unknowns in 2017 to organize and realize the social sciences fieldwork.

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Marc-Antoine Morier

""Social sciences offer methods and tools to understand people. Using them is a good way to understand how and why they do what they do and say what they say.""