Increased Longevity Creates Challenges for Retirees

Demographer recommends redistributing how we spend our working life


It’s well known that the life expectancy of citizens in developed countries has increased dramatically over the past century. This longer and healthier lifespan creates challenges for people aiming to save enough to fund their own retirement.

Increasing longevity is mainly due to public health measures which keep people healthy longer, according to a review article in the March 25 edition of Nature. Once someone gets sick with a chronic condition such as dementia or heart disease health generally declines at a similar rate to previous generations. “The process of deterioration with age is not being slowed: it is being delayed,” writes James Vaupel, head of Duke University's Center on the Demography of Aging.

[See Life Expectancy Reaches a New High.]

Citizens in developed countries may need to rethink how they structure their working lives and retirement, Vaupel says. “If young people realize they might live past 100 and be in good shape to 90 or 95, it might make more sense to mix education, work, and child rearing across more years of life instead of devoting the first two decades exclusively to education, the next three or four decades to career and parenting, and the last four solely to leisure."

[See A Tricky Number: Your Own Life Expectancy.]

Vaupel offers a few ideas about how to redistribute the way we spend our time that could make retirement a more manageable goal. Perhaps young people could work fewer hours, but stay in the workforce until older ages. Or maybe workers could take a few career breaks or sabbaticals throughout their career instead of a decades long retirement in old age. "The 20th century was a century of the redistribution of wealth,” says Vaupel. “The 21st century will probably be a century of the redistribution of work."

Tell us, would you like to change the traditional time periods for work and retirement?