February 29, 2024


This retirement age creeps up in jerky increments. By 2026 it will be 67; from 2044 it is expected to rise to 68. But do we know for sure? Or will it be more like Rishi Sunak’s plan to ban smoking, and get a year further off as each year passes, until the whole concept of retirement isn’t even a memory, just a thing that used to seem cool did 40s movies? The International Longevity Center produced a report this week to say that the age will definitely have to rise to 71 for those born after 1970, so yes, it’s sounding more and more like “never”.

It is one of the world’s most divisive discussions, retirement, unless you are French, in which case you will immediately be able to unite around the statement “Macron, go screw yourself”. Well-paid people who really enjoy financial planning get a thrill out of planning it, replicate their personal traits in their pleasant imagined futures, and picture themselves wintering in warmer climates, wearing neckerchiefs. This makes them completely alien to well-paid people who hate financial planning, and none of these people hold a conversation remotely like those whose jobs pay badly. They might enjoy it, they might not, it might be too physically difficult to continue into your 70s, it might not, but when work gives you no fiscal room, as Jeremy Hunt would call it, the idea of ​​having to do forever is more of a scam. Who pays for today’s retirement, if not the people who would retire tomorrow, except they won’t be able to?

Further fragmentation occurs between people who depend much of their identity on their work, and those who see work primarily as destroying the self, people who like having colleagues and, well, the other kind. From this mess of conflicting emotions, it is difficult to get a full, synchronized response to the idea of ​​”work till you drop”. We can think seriously about organizing the retirement age by sector, so that manual workers can at least stop sooner; or we can get a lot more French, and say if 71 doesn’t work for either of us, it doesn’t work for either of us. But we can’t just leave it at “meh”.

  • Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist

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