Is Retiring At 80 The Future?

Eighteen is the turning point, kids. It only gets harder and harder from here on out! It’s like carrying a stack of books, except with every year the load only gets heavier. University is just the beginning. It’s full of hard to meet deadlines and extensive essays you have to spend all night writing. For some of us, expensive tuitions mean we’ve got to dive into some part time work at the same time. The road is anything but smooth and simple. With every milestone comes a new responsibility too: graduation leads to financial independence, but also having to join the rat race at work. It also means marriage, which brings along it’s own set of sharp edges to watch out for. Living with someone new, no matter how much you love them, is always a careful balance. An even harder careful balance? In-laws. The word alone scares us. Before you know it, you’ll find your house full of kids — little humans but with big needs. Adulthood is all about juggling multiple balls in the air at once. The stressful part — if the previous map of life wasn’t stressful in itself — is how you’ve got to manage it all under the clock. Retirement’s at sixty for most of us, and we don’t really get anywhere comfortable until our forties anyway. So many of us spend the first twenty to thirty years of our professional lives with our heads held firmly down, working away, and taking little time off to focus on the ones that truly matter: ourselves and our families. It’s just the way things go, and have been going for ages. Does it really have to be that way though?

Laura Carstensen, a psychologist from the Stanford Centre on Longevity, disagrees. “We need a new model,” Carstensen says of the way we chart out our career paths as of right now. “The current one doesn’t work, because it fails to recognize all the other demands on our time. People are working full-time at the same time they’re raising children. You never get a break. You never get to step out. You never get to refresh… We go at this unsustainable pace, and then pull the plug.” More than that, it’s worth noting how the average life expectancy of women and men has also greatly increased over the past few decades. Approximately 5% of the population are likely to reach 100, while the mid 80’s are a ball park figure for others. The question then is, why aren’t careers more spread out? Physical labour becomes more difficult as we age, but intellectual processes can continue to function after a more extended period of learning. This would unload some of the pressure millennial adults face trying to balance all the different expectations they are meant to fulfil.

Instead, Carstensen says, a lifetimes worth of work, and the accumulation of experience should be redistributed across a longer time frame. The current, condensed expectation of this is unrealistic and limiting. She says education and apprenticeships could stretch longer, for years of extensive and enriching study. This could even merge with the stage where many people start expanding their families and having children. ‘Full-time’ is something that would ideally begin around 40, rather our early 20s. Naturally, this means careers would be longer, with a gradual transition to part-time work in the years before full retirement around 80. It’s been seen that abrupt retirements at 60 – 65 have adverse psychological repercussions on the elderly. The sudden loss of social interaction and the feeling of being part of a long standing career can be devastating. 

“There is no real reason why we need to work this way. The hardest thing is, how does [change] start?” Carstensen said. But “once it starts, there’s very little question that it’s going to roll on.” Carstensen’s ideas refer to restructuring the way businesses and educational institutes are currently set up. It’s an ambitious thought, but definitely an interesting one. We can’t help but agree to the concept. What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!

This article was originally published on Quartz.

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