A recent article in the Encore section of the WSJ, entitled “How to Add Life to Longer Lives” talks about the scientific advances which are extending our lives. The point made by the article is that although these advances are being made and the first person in modern times who will live to 150 is alive today, as a society we are not prepared to deal with all the associated aspects that significantly longer lives will impact.
The idea that we, as a society, are unprepared for longer lifespans is not something just for future generations to ponder and solve, it is a conversation that needs to be elevated and discussed today.
Over the past 15 years, we have seen most large employers freeze pension plans for their employees, eliminate these plans for all newer employees, and put more of the responsibility for retirement savings on the employee themselves, through 401(k) only options. The boomers who are retiring today are among the first who don’t have the safety net of an employer pension and in many cases did not adequately prepare themselves for this adjustment.
We have transitioned from the implied safety of a pension, Social Security, and a little extra savings, to the current era where employees are tasked with saving themselves, not only for retirement but for a potentially decades-long retirement. With a few notable exceptions, employees have been left on their own to figure out how much of their current income needs to be set aside in order to secure a 20 year, 30 year, or even longer retirement.
Even those individuals who manage to adequately save for a long retirement, still have to deal with the reality of decades of retirement and what that might look like. Will it be a time of reinvention and new paths, or will it be lacking in purpose and direction?
I believe part of the transition to adjusting to longer lives is an adaptation in the workforce to a “second phase” career or partial retirement. When lifespans were 70 years, it made sense that a 60-something retirement occurred, to leave room for younger workers in the workforce and to have a few “golden” years for the retiree prior to death. However, with lifespans of 80 or 90 years, does it still make sense that most individuals depart the workforce entirely at 65?
The author of the WSJ article suggests a Legacy Corps, similar to the Peace Corps, but for older people to engage as “extra grandparents” or in other roles to the many in our society who haven’t had benefit of close intergenerational relationships. The idea of encouraging intergenerational interactions can be beneficial all around, since many upcoming retirees also had fewer children of their own that they may need to depend on later in their own lives.
If you haven’t taken a hard look at what will be needed to sustain your lifestyle for a potentially long retirement, it is time to do so. Each year you delay is a year of growth you are forfeiting.
In addition to financial goals for later life, consider also what your goals for “purpose” will be. We all need a reason to get up in the morning, so viewing our eventual retirement through the lens of what our next phase might look like, or the reinvention of ourselves, will help us to define “purpose” to give life to our longer lives.