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Thursday, May 21, 1998 Published at 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK


Whatever happened to the good life ?
image: [ The retirement age in the US will rise to 67 in 1999 and is set to go up to 70 by 2029. ]
The retirement age in the US will rise to 67 in 1999 and is set to go up to 70 by 2029.

Imagine walking out of the office, clutching a carriage clock, and a fat pension, and never having to go back. The golf course, the world cruise or the garden instead becoming your occupation.

It is a dream which keeps many people going through the tedium of their working life. And, thanks to the end of the industrial era and burgeoning technology, it was a dream that everyone was supposed to be experiencing in their 50s or even 40s.

[ image: Dame Barbara Cartland...the
Dame Barbara Cartland...the "exception to the rule"
Think again. While British women face the retirement age increasing to 65 by 2010, a panel of American economists, lawyers and politicians is actually recommending raising retirement to 70.

The proposal by the National Commission on Retirement Policy is designed to reduce the burden on the US social security system, which risks collapse as millions of "baby boomers" head towards the age where they take their pensions.

What went wrong? Back in the 1960s numerous economists predicted that as new technology spread through factories and offices and took on more of our work we would all be able to retire early.

Pensions puzzle

But while technology has certainly reduced the need for traditional manpower it has not been able to solve the pensions puzzle.

[ image: The Oldie magazine is aimed at those who at least feel young]
The Oldie magazine is aimed at those who at least feel young
Since the US social security fund was put in place in 1935 by President Roosevelt, life expectancy for the typical American has risen from 65 to 76.

In the next 30 years, 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 will reach retirement age. Most will live on into their 70s or 80s, and be a huge burden on the state pensions. By 2030 half of all Europeans will be over 60.

Britain is unlikely to follow the American example. But there are differing views about how the situation should be addressed.

In the last few years, Richard Ingrams, the editor of The Oldie magazine, has been highlighting the swelling numbers of those in the over-50 bracket.

Tony West, from the magazine, said raising the pensionable age would simply increase the divide between those who could afford to take early retirement and those who must work on.

Dame Barbara Cartland, who is still writing romantic novels at the age of 96, is totally opposed to the idea of raising the retirement age.

[ image: British women can currently retire five years earlier than men]
British women can currently retire five years earlier than men
She considers herself the "exception to the rule" and thinks people in their 60s should spend more time with their spouses and grandchildren.

She said: "We should not extend the working age any longer. Most people have had enough by the age of 60 or 65. It's a great mistake to wear everybody out."

Sir Ludovic Kennedy, the 78-year-old writer and broadcaster, says: "A writer goes on until he drops but if you are a bank manager or something it would be ghastly if you felt you had to go on until you were 70."

Sir Ludovic, a proponent of voluntary euthanasia, says: "There will be a decreasing workforce looking after an increasing number of pensioners. The system can't stand it. Voluntary euthanasia would help ease the pressure."

Ian Pearson, a futurologist who works for BT, says: "It's not that futurologists got it wrong in the 1960s but their forecasts were based on people living 1960s lifestyles rather than 1990s lifestyles.

"If you want fridge-freezers, hi-fi systems, two cars and a couple of holidays a year you need a reasonable income."

Mr Pearson says: "There is a tug of war between various competing trends.

"Ever increasing productivity and automation would, all other things being equal, mean us retiring early but people are working more to get a higher standard of living."
[ image: Judges in the UK can go on until 70 before hanging up their gavels and wigs]
Judges in the UK can go on until 70 before hanging up their gavels and wigs

Demographic time bomb

He says: "Life expectancy in the future might reach the late 80s or even the 90s and you can't expect people to be retired for 30 years when their health may be perfectly good."

The western world faces a demographic time bomb which could explode in our faces.

"There is a theory that in the future there will be a revolution among young working people who will refuse to pay growing state pension contributions to subsidise the 'baby boomers' who did not provide sufficiently for their own old age."


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