For many, the Stock Market Crash of 2008 wiped out most of their retirement savings. For some, working longer past the traditional retirement age is a key to ongoing engagement, community involvement, and mental health. For most, working beyond 65 (or whatever the retirement age is in your country) is an economic expectation, for better and/or worse.
Nevertheless, older people continuing in the work force provides at least two striking challenges to the larger economy, which already faces a number of challenges in this Great Realignment.
The first is neatly explored byat MIT’s AgeLab on his occasional series ‘ ‘ on BigThink.com. People in in the US and Britain overwhelmingly plan/assume they will work later in life than previous generations. According to Coughlin, the median age people in Britain expect to work is 71. The trend can be found throughout the Atlantic north (North America and most of Europe).
And yet, Britain has some of the most unhealthy workers in the world, with obesity rates in the US not far behind.
How are they/we going to work longer to stay financially afloat while living lifestyles that infamously curtail lifespan?
On the face of things, we are not going to do both. But the disconnect of these two findings is what Coughlin stresses: “We look at pensions and retirement planning as one set of problems and the cost of health as another – a failure in systems thinking in a systems world. … Health and wealth in an aging world are intimately entwined. Not just in terms of costs to family and public coffers, but the capacity to work longer requires the physical (and cognitive) capacity to work longer.”
Coughlin cogently points out that ‘retirement planning’ needs to be both financial and lifestyle, that the planning must be done in one’s younger years (by the 40s for sure), and that businesses and governments must act in an enlightened manner to encourage sound fiscal and healthcare policy for the sake of long-term profits and social wellbeing. He traces the efforts of some companies in the US that have seen investment in a healthy workforce in the near term as a long-term opportunity for older skilled workers to bring in profit and innovation.
But so too does the expectation of longer working years pose a challenge to the next generation, who might have to wait still longer to move into fulltime careers and out from parents’ homes. The innovations and energies they might bring to the market will be restrained by ongoing limitations to enter the workplace (whether by general unemployment or by elders’ needs to continue to support themselves through work for longer periods of time).
Of course, if a sedentary lifestyle and the post-agricultural diet remain the norm, perhaps many older people expecting to work longer will not have the health to do so. Then the question becomes ‘how will we pay for their healthcare if they are not able to work?’