THE PREDICTION about problems that might be created by the retirement of the baby boomers is an interesting speculation, but it does not deal with the reality in the chemical profession (C&EN, Sept.1, page 36). There is no question that someone working day-to-day in a physical assembly-line type of job is likely to count the days until retirement to escape a drab job. Unless they have irresolvable workplace problems, most chemists want to be involved in the beloved profession they chose many years ago for as long as possible. Perhaps 50 years ago, when the life expectancy was around age 70, chemists wanted to retire at 65, generally from the same company at which they started their career, to see and explore the world before they left it.
This picture has changed dramatically, but it has nothing to do with baby boomers. How many are retiring after 40 years with the same organization? Perhaps there are some in academe, but not in industry. If someone retires between the age of 50 and 55, it is rarely to pursue some dream. It is not that the baby-boomer chemists want to retire, it is that companies want them to retire early due to mergers, outsourcing, and the economy. The writer of the article admits that "many companies shrug off this issue as irrelevant." It is economically advantageous, though shortsighted, for the company if employees retire early since their higher salaries are replaced by the lower starting salaries of new graduates. Most of those chemists who took early retirement really would not have done so if the Sword of Damocles had not been hanging above their heads—by which I mean, to be terminated without a retirement package if they did not.
Let's be realistic and not act again like Chicken Little with timeworn cries about the impending disaster of a shortage of chemists. We have ample numbers of experienced mature chemists who want to stay on and have the opportunity to explore the wonders of chemistry for many years.
Attila E. Pavlath
Walnut Creek, Calif.