If you laid a timeline of human existence across a 100-yard football field, the idea of “retirement” — where people permanently stopped working and relied on financial support — would show up after having covered 99.9 yards! The earliest evidence of homo sapiens dates back 300,000 years, after all, but German Chancellor Otto von Bismark’s decision to introduce the first version of “retirement” just surfaced 129 years ago.
The point being: retirement is a very new and historically unusual idea.
Even then, our definition of “retirement” has changed over time. As a 1998 paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research reports: “In the past, men may have been more likely to phase work out of their lives slowly… The continued importance of farming and of artisanal enterprises to the American economy may have allowed owners to reduce hours of work and continue to operate their enterprises with the help of family members and hired labor.”