In an era when people live longer and want (or need) to work past the traditional retirement age, the Vita Needle Company of Needham, Massachusetts provides inspiration and important lessons about the value of older workers. Vita Needle is a family-owned factory that, as part of its unusual business model, seeks out older workers; the median age of the employees is seventy-four. In Retirement on the Line, Caitrin Lynch explores what this unusual company's commitment to an aging workforce means for the employer, the workers, the community, and society more generally. As an in-depth study of a singular workplace, rooted in the unique insights of an anthropologist who specializes in the world of work, this book provides a sustained focus on values and meanings—with profound consequences for the broader assumptions our society has about aging and employment.
Finalist: American Anthropological Association's Society for the Anthropology of Work, 2012 Book Prize
Praise for Retirement on the Line
"Caitrin Lynch's ethnography of Vita Needle is excellent. Retirement on the Line brings vivid humanity to the issues of aging and the meaning of work."—Jennie Keith, Swarthmore College, author of Old People, New Lives
"There is a great, strong story at the heart of Retirement on the Line: a light industrial factory staffed by persons in their seventies, eighties, and even older. Caitrin Lynch's book is about a concentration of old (not older) workers and the local work culture they have created. Because she, too, worked at Vita Needle among them, her account is all the more trustworthy and vivid."—David J. Ekerdt, University of Kansas
"Through her moving ethnography of the Vita Needle factory and its elderly workers, Caitrin Lynch raises provocative questions about what it means to age and what it means to work in our contemporary global economy."—Jane Collins, University of Wisconsin–Madison, author of Threads: Gender, Labor & Power in the Global Economy
"Are there workers with an average age of 75 years who have freedom, flexibility, choice, and a personal sense of control in the workplace and who are willing to accept minimum wages and (with Medicare coverage) no other health insurance? The author found them at Vita Needle, a small factory in Needham, Massachusetts that manufactures needles for a wide array of uses. Caitrin Lynch's skilled and thorough analysis of the workers' stories is sure to capture readers’ interest in the value of employment after 'retirement.’ Lynch’s interviews and sympathetic participant observations also inform her portrait of Vita Needle’s employment tactics and the effects of extensive media coverage on the workers’ lives. Policymakers, students of labor, and individuals facing retirement will find this book absorbing and revealing."—Francille M. Firebaugh, Dean Emerita, College of Human Ecology, Cornell University and Vice-Chair, Board of Directors, Families and Work Institute
"Retirement on the Line is an outstanding ethnography carrying readers inside a suburban U.S. needle factory whose employees' median age is 74. As Caitrin Lynch explores the daily lives of elder factory workers who choose to remain economically productive long after "retirement," she challenges taken-for-granted assumptions about aging, work, and value in late life and helps us rethink what retirement can mean at a time when economic crises are threatening state and private pensions. Its mix of wise insight into big-picture themes and intimate portraits makes the book a truly engrossing and enlightening read. It will have a large impact and a wide audience, both lay and academic."—Sarah Lamb, Brandeis University, author of White Saris and Sweet Mangoes: Aging, Gender, and Body in North India
A review from Frank Koller, author of SPARK: How Old-Fashioned Values Drive a Twenty-First Century Corporation, posted on Huffington Post
At 102, Reflections On Race And The End Of Life
Excerpts from an NPR interview with Rosa Finnegan. Reported and produced by Ari Daniel and Caitrin Lynch.
Retirement on The Line is also available in German and Japanese