Breaking the Watch: The Meanings of Retirement in America

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The topic of retirement becomes increasingly compelling as the U.S. population ages. It's easy to find books about how to plan financially for those years after careers end, but Breaking the Watch focuses on the many ways of creating a life, not just making a living, as a retired person.This book follows women and men from a rural American community as they approach and experience the first years of retirement. Joel Savishinsky focuses on the efforts people make to find meaning in a stage of life American culture...
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Overview

The topic of retirement becomes increasingly compelling as the U.S. population ages. It's easy to find books about how to plan financially for those years after careers end, but Breaking the Watch focuses on the many ways of creating a life, not just making a living, as a retired person.This book follows women and men from a rural American community as they approach and experience the first years of retirement. Joel Savishinsky focuses on the efforts people make to find meaning in a stage of life American culture often views in a confused or disdainful way.In conversations and stories, 13 men and 13 women demonstrate a deep commitment to defining their own retirement. They bring to their mature years a diversity of backgrounds, interests, and responsibilities. They include former teachers, librarians, doctors, farmers, lawyers, bankers, mail carriers, and secretaries. Some are married, others divorced or single; many have children and grandchildren, but some have neither. Their finances run the gamut from the modest to the munificent, while their health ranges from robust to disabled. From an examination of the "rites of passage" that marked their exit from full-time work, Breaking the Watch moves on to consider how to plan appropriately for retirement; renegotiate ties to friends, family, and community; and create a sense of passion—be it for t'ai chi, travel, painting, or politics—that will drive a new sense of purpose. These intimate glimpses into real lives allow a rare understanding of the retirement process.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Retiring means more than just quitting work. It is one of life's major transitions that can carry heavy-duty emotional and psychological issues, involving nothing less than a redefinition of the self. Breaking the Watch: The Meanings of Retirement in America grapples with the meaning and ramifications of this transition. . . . Mr. Savishinsky. . . does an admirable job of interviewing his 26 retirees on a wide range of topics and it's the voices of the retirees that power the book."—Fred Brock, The New York Times. August 6, 2000.

"This book. . . includes valuable information for younger (and older) readers, too. . . . The retirees studied here are thoughtful, often eloquent observers of their new position in life; their "voices" are vivid and enlightening. . . ."—Mary Carroll, Booklist. October, 2000.

"This book is an excellent, well-researched volume. . . . the well-reasoned discussions and thoughtful portraits offered make this a worthwhile purchase for both academic and public libraries."—Library Journal, October 1, 2000.

"Savishinsky brings his considerable research skills and experience with other projects on aging to bear on this essentially anecdotal study. . . . "—Publishers Weekly, September 25, 2000.

"Savishinsky treats his readers to very compelling narratives of loss, insight, triumph, and disappointment, told in lovingly crafted prose, weaving the lives of his interviewees together as their own paths cross. His book is an ethnography of retirement but also a guide to doing it well."—Steven M. Albert, Columbia University. Current Anthropology, Vol. 43, No. 2, April 2002

"The book is organized in a unique way. Each chapter (1-6) is prefaced by a conversation with a retiree and is followed by a set of life stories dealing with the same dilemma. This is where Savishinsky's strategy of letting the participants speak for themselves works superbly with the vivid and eloquent voices. . . Overall the book will be a good reader for anyone—lay or expert—who is interested in aging and retirement."—Shin-Kap Han, University of Illinois. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 107, No. 2, September 2001

"This book shines with the earned dignity of those whose lives (and fate) it attentively and respectfully documents. Here, for all of us to understand, are the later years some Americans have taken on—and here we learn of elderly resourcefulness, reflection, imagination, determination: life as it approaches the end becomes a spell of challenge—of humanity affirmed, achieved."—Robert Coles, Harvard University

"A splendid book for anyone planning or taking retirement. Breaking the Watch resonates with the lively voices, illuminating stories, and wisdom of men and women who've made the challenging transition from employment to retirement. Kudos to Joel Savishinsky for this unique guide to the art of living in retirement."—Carl Klaus, author of Taking Retirement: A Beginner's Diary

"In his wonderful book, Breaking the Watch, Joel Savishinsky follows a group of women and men as they make the transition from work to retirement. Inspiring and sometimes heartbreaking, this book is an example of qualitative research at its best."—Jill Quadagno, Florida State University

"Heads and shoulders above the many first-person how-to books about 'succeeding' at retirement, Breaking the Watch gives us a three-dimensional, rounded view of the retirement experience. I can't think of another book on retired life that comes close to this one."—David J. Ekerdt, University of Kansas

"The portraits in Breaking the Watch are nuanced, intimate, and recognizable. They reflect not only the nature of retirement, but also the far larger issues of relationship and the quest for purpose in life. Joel Savishinky's book is lucidly written and compelling, a unique and invaluable work." —Thomas Gregor, Vanderbilt University

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Bringing his considerable research skills and experience with other projects on aging to bear on this essentially anecdotal study, Savishinsky (The Ends of Time: Life and Work in a Nursing Home) relates his findings after extensive conversations and interviews with 26 recent retirees (all of them white and middle class) in a small upper New York State community called "Shelby." Nudged into early retirement, former postal worker Nate Rumsfeld found that he and his wife could meet their financial obligations just on his pension and her job as a receptionist. After a brief "honeymoon period," he endured an unanticipated stretch of worry and stress that disturbed his marriage until he was able to occupy himself with part-time employment. On the other hand, 67-year-old Alic Armani, recently divorced from an alcoholic husband, finally was free to pursue the painting career she had dreamed of when she was a young art student after she retired from her job as director of a social service agency. Although his subjects had unique reactions to retiring, Savishinsky does draw some tentative lessons in this quiet study, which is not definitive or wide-ranging enough to appeal to a wide audience. Among other unsurprising conclusions, he believes that those considering retirement should think carefully about it, leave their jobs on a good note and rediscover the passionate interests they may not have had time for during their working lives. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
"The American shift to viewing retirement as a norm, an expectation, and a right is now unmistakable," observes Savishinsky in this excellent, well-researched volume about how many of us will spend the last quarter of our lives. Savishinsky, a professor in the anthropology department and the Gerontology Institute at Ithaca College, has observed life in various contexts in books that include The Ends of Time: Life and Work in a Nursing Home; he has also written about retirement in several well-cited articles. Here he gives us a fine overview of the current thinking on retirement, with a glance at the numbers supporting this work. Generally, however, Savishinsky eschews statistics and attempts to portray the quite varied side of retirement by focusing on 26 retirees in a small rural community. While acknowledging that the group consisted of white, middle-class men and women, Savishinsky claims that they were "otherwise diverse." This is, of course, debatable, but the well-reasoned discussions and thoughtful portraits offered make this a worthwhile purchase for both academic and public libraries.--Ellen D. Gilbert, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Rather than giving advice on financial planning for retirement, this study by Savishinsky (anthropology, Gerontology Institute, Ithaca College) focuses on how 26 US retirees experience the rites of passage and post-work life. Data on the study participants is appended. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801488177
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2002
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
A Note on Sources xi
Introduction: The Poignancy and Poetry of the Everyday 1
A First Cup: At the Firehouse 31
1 The Unbearable Lightness of Retirement: Ritual and Support at the End of Work 43
A Second Cup: Life is What Happens 58
2 Zen Masters and Master Planners: How People Prepare For Later Life 66
A Third Cup: How Do You Catalog This? 85
3 At Work, at Home, at Large: The Sense of Person and Place 91
A Fourth Cup: Behind the Mirror 108
4 Looking for the Light: The Search for Passion and Purpose in Maturity 116
A Fifth Cup: Around the Lake 153
5 The Kaleidoscope and the Conspirators: Kinship, Friendship, and Meaning among Elders 160
A Sixth Cup: The Incompleat Fatalist 193
6 Death and Taxes: Dealing with Health, Finances, and Fate in Retirement 203
7 Conclusions: Lessons and Cautions 237
A Final Cup: The Broken Watch 246
Appendix 251
Notes 253
References 265
Index 279
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