I was really interested to read an article recently about a fit and active 97 year old who worked as a dentist until he was 75. As we help dentists plan financially for this stage of their lives I was fascinated to find out what he thought about retirement.
Back in 1960 the average life expectancy in the UK and the US was around 70, with many men retiring at 65. In 2016 most people can expect to live to about 80 and yet the average retirement age is 64.
According to a report by the National Institute on Ageing (NIH), there is no physiological reason why older people cannot participate in the formal workforce. “But the expectation that people will cease working when they reach a certain age has gained credence over the past century."
This expectation started After World War II when industrialised nations created modern pension schemes. But those pension schemes were created when life expectancy was a lot shorter.
If the average person can expect to live to 80, it may surprise you to learn that half of all babies born in industrialised nations today can expect to live to 100 years. This could mean we have to totally rethink the way we live and work. Two professors at the London Business School, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, have recently written a book called The 100-Year Life
It's not too difficult to consider that reaching 100 could become the norm, then we have to discard our idea of a traditional "three-stage life", one in which education is followed by work and then retirement.
A perfect case study for this argument is the nonagenarian Charles Eugster who at the age of 97 commutes to his office most mornings to write, update his website and conduct research into ageing. He worked as a dentist until he was 75 and when he reached his late 80s he focused on his fitness. He now holds the sprint records for the indoor 200m and outdoor 400m sprint for men over 95.
"I'm not chasing youthfulness. I'm chasing health.” Says Dr Eugster. He believes that people have been brainwashed to think that after you're 65, you're finished. “But retirement is a financial disaster and a health catastrophe," he says.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as well as many pensions and retirement experts share his thoughts. A recent report by the OECD declared that reducing old-age poverty has been one of the greatest social policy successes in OECD countries.
But it also added: "As the baby boomer generation retires and pension systems continue to be reformed, the focus on preventing old-age poverty will become sharper and sources of income in old age other than those from pension systems would have to be considered."
And this could mean working well into our old age.
And what about the pension “time bomb” we are getting used to hearing about? There's no denying that an ageing population coupled with a reduction in young people entering the workforce due to falling fertility rates, means governments and companies are struggling to pay out the pensions of the elderly.
The UN estimates that globally, the number of those over 60 or over will more than double by 2050
and more than triple by the end of this century.
As Charles Eugster says. "How on earth do you think we are going to pay for all those years of doing nothing?"
Aside from the pension issue, if our working lives become a seven-decades long affair, then we should also consider the need to constantly retrain and reinvent ourselves to stay ahead of technology and the demand for changing skill sets.
So, if we take into account the need to work longer whilst maintaining our education it'll be more important that ever that we stay fit and healthy.
The current elderly stereotype is that the over 80's are often too frail to work and are to be dependent on their family or social institutions.
Anne Karpf is a sociologist at London Metropolitan University and author of How to Age. She says the the existing stereotypes are wrong. "All of us, as we go through life, have periods of fragility and dependency," she says. "This idea that the young are independent and the old are dependent is a gross simplification."
There appears to be considerable debate surrounding the following questions: Are we living healthier as well as longer lives, or are our additional years spent in poor health?
According to research done by NIH it unfortunately all depends on your ethnic background and how rich you are, at least it does in the US, although it discovered that in the UK, older people were healthier regardless of their socioeconomic background.
Overall it appears that with the impending pensions “time-bomb”, economics does not bode well for those of us looking forward to a long, financially stress-free retirement. Could it be that our increased longevity becomes a curse rather than an achievement? And does our future mean spending several decades working out at the gym like Dr Eugster?
Not necessarily. Dr Eugster believes that as his age group becomes a more common reality, there has to be better services for them along with dating agencies, business schools and training facilities for the over 65s. It appears that anything that helps the elderly remain engaged and productive will also keeps them healthier, happier and looking forward to reaching their century.