What is Returnment

Returnment is the act of returning to work after one has retired from one's job. Returnment happens for many reasons: some people do it out of financial necessity, others because they find full-time retirement less fulfilling than they thought, and return to work for the satisfaction that work provides.


Returnment is a growing trend, as more people on the cusp of retiring desire more non-traditional retirement/working arrangements. Not all retirees want to live a life of full-time leisure, especially in the early years of their retirement. In addition, people are living longer and have to support themselves over more years in retirement.

Adding to the issue of longer life expectancy are the changing practices of private employers, who are opting to enroll their workers in defined-contribution retirement plans rather than defined-benefit pensions. The proportion of American workers participating in defined-benefit pension plans fell from 38 percent to 20 percent between 1980 and 2008, causing retirement security to decline. When retirement savings don’t return as much as expected, some retirees are forced into returnment.

The History of Retirement and Returnment

The concept of retirement, whereby a worker will stop working and instead live off of accumulated savings, is a relatively new one in human history. Prior to the industrial revolution, very few humans were wealthy enough to imagine a time when they would not have to labor to sustain themselves. The few who did achieve such wealth generally didn’t have to work for a living, instead living off the returns of their vast fortunes. 

Starting in the nineteenth century, middle classes began forming and growing throughout the industrialized world, and laborers poured into the cities from the countryside to work in newly built factories. It was in this setting that workers began agitating for some of the new wealth being created to be set aside for their old age, and the first modern, state-sponsored pension program was introduced in Germany in 1889. Around the same time private employers in the United States began offering their workers pensions too, a practice that grew steadily up until the Great Depression, when the federal government organized the Social Security system Americans rely on to this day. 

Starting in the 1980s, however, private companies began to pull back on pension plans, shifting workers to retirement savings accounts which were less secure. This phenomenon, along with the fact that many retirees find a life of leisure unfulfilling, sparked the trend of returnment in the U.S. and across the world.