When is the right time to retire?

By virtue of her age, 65 year old Susan is entitled to pensioners’ discount at her supermarket. “But I’m not a pensioner,” she says, “And I’m certainly not old!

“I’m still running my own successful business and keeping up a punishing schedule. I’m also still running – literally – although I’m not, and never have been, Comrades material.”

Susan is typical of today’s ‘young-old’ generation (those aged between 65 and 75 years), who are challenging the stereotype of retired people pottering round the garden in their slippers, or baking cookies with their grandchildren.

So called ‘YOLD’

The so called ‘yold’ are wealthier, fitter, more active and socially engaged than previous generations of seniors. They’re travelling more, swelling the ranks of ‘mature students’ at universities, and transforming the health and insurance sectors. And many are working on into their late 60s and 70s.

“I enjoy the finer things in life – eating out, going to the theatre, being able to replace my car every few years, holidays abroad. Last year a friend and I went on a cruise and had the time of our lives! Although I’ve saved for my retirement, I’ll have to be a lot more careful with money then. I’d rather keep on working as long as possible so I can continue living the life I love.” Gina, 66

Working past retirement age

Continuing to work is one of the factors that help keep old age at bay. A German study found that the cognitive decline associated with ageing is lessened in people who carry on working past normal retirement age. Living lives of purpose and usefulness also boosts their self confidence.

“Going to work gives me a reason to get up in the morning. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I sat around at home all day. I’m sure my brain would shut down. And it would drive my wife crazy! ” Raffik, 71

Many companies assume that older employees are less productive. But the study found that older workers have, if anything, slightly above-average productivity. Teams of workers from multiple generations are the most productive of all.

“Since my divorce ten years ago, I’ve lived alone. Some weekends I can go the entire day without speaking to a living soul. I look forward to getting to the office on Mondays, where I’m part of a lively team. Most of the others are much younger than me, but they treat me with respect. I’m their ‘go-to’ person whenever the figures don’t balance, because I’m good at spotting transposed figures and mistakes with addition and subtraction.” Benny, 68

Age-friendly companies

Companies are going to be challenged to become more age-friendly – for example, they should not limit training opportunities to only younger staff members. The yold will also challenge public attitude towards older people. As people work longer and need less medical care, societies should be better off, because public spending on health and pensions should be lower.

“Although I’m nearly 70, I’m a keen scuba diver; I qualified as a dive master about 10 years ago, and have dived all over the world. It’s become more physically taxing as I’ve grown older, but there are always others in the group willing to help with the heavy equipment. Once in the water, I feel as free as a bird (or should that be a fish?). Although I can afford to retire, I see no reason to give up my freelance bookkeeping job, which helps pay for my dive trips. I also have a Saturday morning swimming class for tiny tots. Interacting with the kids and helping them to overcome their fear of the water is very rewarding.” Esme, 69

Not everyone is fortunate enough to enjoy good health and a comfortable lifestyle as they get older. But for those of us who are fit and active, the idea of fitting in with an arbitrary ‘sell by’ date which decrees we should give up work at a certain age, seems ridiculous.

Are you part of, or approaching the yold generation? What are your feelings about retirement? Please leave a comment below.

[With acknowledgement to J Parker in The Economist]