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Why is the Retirement Age 65?

In the early 1880s, Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck of Germany had a problem. Marxist unrest was spreading across Europe and some of his own countrymen were calling for socialist reforms. To take the wind out of their sails and stave off more radical policies, Bismarck concocted a first-of-its-kind social insurance program wherein the national government would contribute to the pensions of nonworking older Germans.

Along with German Emperor William the First, Bismarck announced the idea in 1881, and the pair made their case to the Reichstag, or German Parliament, that  “those who are disabled from work by age and invalidity have a well-grounded claim to care from the state.”*

According to the historians at the American Social Security Administration, the usual explanation for that magic number of 65 is that, at the time the plan was created, that happened to be Bismarck’s own age. The story doesn’t hold up, though. Germany initially chose 70 as its retirement age, and didn’t lower it to 65 until long after Bismarck was dead. The choice for the age of eligibility was actually more of a shrewd, and maybe a little cynical, cost-saving measure: it closely matched the average German life expectancy at the time.

Even though his plan was to flank the Marxists, Bismarck (pictured) still drew criticism for the old-age pensions, and the far-right politician was labeled a socialist. The same charge was slapped on President Franklin Roosevelt when he imported the idea to the U.S. decades later. The Committee on Economic Security, which launched the American Social Security system in 1935, selected 65 as the retirement age, but the SSA says that federal government wasn’t simply following Germany’s lead. Their choice was, like the Germans’, pragmatic. Roughly half of the existing private and state-run old-age pension systems, as well as the federal Railroad Retirement System, were using 65 as their retirement age, and the other half were using 70. It was practical for the federal plan to sync up with one half or the other, and the government’s actuarial studies suggested that starting the pensions at age 65 would allow for a system that could easily be sustained with moderate payroll taxes.

That sustainability wouldn’t last, though. In the 1980s, the SSA saw that changes in the number of people in the workforce and in retirement would require reforms to the plan. Congress has since had to make the occasional adjustment to Social Security withholding taxes and the age of eligibility. Currently, the retirement age for full benefits depends on the year a person was born. Meanwhile, the Germans have had to make adjustments to their own historic system, proposing a gradual increase of the official retirement age to 67 over the next few years.

* Just a few years later, Bismarck and William also passed an Imperial insurance order — known in German as the Reichsversicherungsverordnung — which mandated certain workers to pay premiums to health insurance funds.

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How Are Royal Babies Named?
Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

After much anticipation, England's royal family has finally received a tiny new addition. The birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's second son was confirmed by Kensington Palace on April 23, but the name of the royal newborn has yet to be announced. For the heir to the British throne and his wife, choosing a name for their third child—who is already fifth in line to the throne—likely won't be as easy as flipping through a baby name book; it's tradition for royals to select names that honor important figures from British history.

According to ABC WJLA, selecting three or four names is typical when naming a royal baby. Will and Kate followed this unwritten rule when naming their first child, George Alexander Louis, and their second, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Each name is an opportunity to pay homage to a different British royal who came before them. Some royal monikers have less savory connotations (Prince Harry's given name, Henry, is reminiscent of a certain wife-beheading monarch), but typically royal babies are named for people who held a significant and honorable spot in the family tree.

Because there's a limited pool of honorable monarchs from which to choose, placing bets on the royal baby name as the due date approaches has become a popular British pastime. One name that keeps cropping up this time around is James; the original King James ruled in the early 17th century, and it has been 330 years since a monarch named James wore the crown.

If the royal family does go with James for the first name of their youngest son, that still leaves at least a couple of slots to be filled. So far, the couple has stuck with three names each for their children, but there doesn't seem to be a limit; Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to George VI in 1936, shouldered the full name of Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

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