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March 13, 2007

Question of the Day

Is this a reasonable assumption?

In evaluating a neighborhood in the 1920 Federal Census, I have begun to note that a large portion of the heads of household were listed as "retired" under their profession. Given that they were generally men in their fifties and sixties who owned their homes, lived around the corner from what at the time was an elite golf course and country club and did not have any other family members working, is it reasonable to assume that they had retired because they simply could afford to? I am aware that this is a broad generalization.

I have rarely seen the term "retired" in the 1920 census, however the bulk of my research within it has focused on working class neighborhoods, whereas this one was a developing suburban outgrowth of New York City, with a mix of wealthy and working class inhabitants, as well as farmers.

Posted by callalillie at March 13, 2007 2:03 PM | History , Inquiry


well one thing is that the average life expectency was not nearly what it is today. when social security began, people were not living much beyond 65. that is why the downfall of the system today, when the average life expectency is about 10 years longer. so i can imagine people retiring earlier then if they could afford it.

the average life expectency in 1920 was 56.4 years at birth. so i would imagine that people wanted to enjoy their golden years.

Posted by: skutchie at March 13, 2007 3:56 PM

Yes, that's kind of what I meant by "simply afford to." Though I would think that they'd need to be fairly wealthy to do so in 1920, particularly so young (even with a shorter life expectancy) and no one else contributing to the family income. But maybe not? I guess I'm just used to seeing people still working at 70 in the census...or in their sixties but with children and other relatives living with them and supporting the family.

Posted by: corie at March 13, 2007 4:00 PM

Also keep in mind that there was no Social Security system in 1920, so anyone not working would need to have some other form of income for their day-to-day expenses. The shorter life expectancy, combined with a lack of supplemental income among the elderly, would both explain why far fewer people were "retired" at the time.

Posted by: Jen at March 13, 2007 4:03 PM

Could they have had pensions? From the military even? Did their household include adult children who were supporting them?

Posted by: Kate at March 13, 2007 5:18 PM

Let's look at the facts:

- Up and coming neighborhood, that appears to be semi-affluent.

- It's prior to the depression

- You have families like the Rockefellers (sp) and other money barons

Could it be possible, that these men would have been involved in industry or related to affluent families? I think that if you could find a 1910 census and locate their names, then you'd get greater insight. Did you try to google any of them?

Posted by: Jenifer at March 13, 2007 10:27 PM

I'll probably do a reverse census study in a bit, though for what I'm working on now, I can't (time constraint). The neighborhood was a mix of professionals, laborers and farmers. I've been cross referencing Sanborn maps with the 1930 census (which gives home values) and that has given some good insight into the various plots of land, etc.

I've pretty much concluded that the younger "retired" men had some considerable wealth...or at least considerable for the time. I just thought that it was interesting that the term was used at all. I'd never seen it before-- most of the time the occupation slot is either kept blank or it reads "no profession."

Posted by: corie at March 13, 2007 11:25 PM

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