In most countries, the idea of a fixed retirement age is of relatively recent origin, being introduced during the 19th and 20th centuries - before then, the absence of pension arrangements meant that most workers had to continue to work until death, or rely on the support of family or friends. Nowadays most developed nations have systems to provide pensions on retirement in old age, which may be sponsored by employers or the state. In many poorer countries, support for the old is still mainly provided through the family.
The retirement age varies from country to country and respective workers (where allowed) choose or however have to retire at different ages, but it is generally somewhere between 55 and 70. In some countries this age is different for male and females, and sometimes certain jobs, the most dangerous or fatiguing ones in particular, have a special (usually earlier) retirement age.
Retired workers then support themselves either through superannuation, or pensions in most cases provided by the government, but sometimes granted only by private subscriptions to mutual funds (in this case, subscriptions might be compulsory or, seldom, left to a volunteer choice). Also, in some countries a sort of additional "bonus" is granted una tantum in proportion of the years of work and the average wages; this is usually provided by the employer.
The financial weight of the total amount of pensions on a government's budget, in the states in which it is the state to pay for them, is usually very heavy and is the reason for political debates about the retirement age; the state might then be either more interested in a later retirement age (for a merely economical reason), or on the contrary on an earlier retirement age, in case the most urgent need is to ensure to a wider number of unemployed workers to access careers (social reason).
The cost of health care in retirement is large, because people tend to be ill more frequently in later life. Increasing numbers of older people, combined with a general increase in the cost of healthcare, has led to the funding of post retirement health care becoming an important political issue in many countries, with pressure to reform healthcare systems to contain costs, or find new sources of funding.
In some economies, retirement might coincide with important life changes; depending of the context of family relationships and cultural traditions, a retired worker might often move to a new location, for example a specialised (retirement village), and thereby having less frequent contact with their previous social context.
In some countries, retired workers will continue to participate the life of their family and their society, often following ancient ethnic roles. Some countries are sponsoring studies and initiatives to help retired workers to keep on contributing to social and cultural life (not necessarily for economic reasons), and an interesting success are recording some recent special universities for elderly people.
Many people in the later years of life, due to failing health, require varying degrees of assistance in living, the highest degree of assistance - in some countries - being provided in a nursing home. Those who need care, but are not in need of constant assistance may choose to reside in a retirement home. A facility with a degree of freedom, yet able to handle geriatric emergencies.
Retirement ceases upon death, or occasionally the retiree deciding to go back to work in either the same or a different professional area. Typically, retirees who go back to work are relatively well-off retirees in good health who find the lack of activity boring and work mainly for their own amusement, often turning a hobby into a job. For instance, some retirees go into business selling arts and crafts. Old-age pensions are usually not reduced because of other income, so the latter comes on top of the former. This may be different in the case of a disability pension.