Exploring Retirement


Welcome to the October 2014 edition of Exploring Retirement. The increase in life expectancy that began in the early years of the 20th century has meant that the length of time we need to plan for in retirement has increased at a steady rate of one year for every four that passes. While this trend cannot continue indefinitely, there is as yet no sign of it ending. We are having to rethink our whole concept of ageing and retirement. In this edition we take a look at some of the more recent perspectives being put forward to help us grapple with the new paradigm.

It has also become apparent that not only are we living longer but more of us are staying healthy and active in retirement. This has led to a new view of retirement, not as a temporary phase but as a whole new life stage. It was for this reason that Exploring Retirement was launched, to help share ideas and information on an active later life.

This month Michael is writing about reading! Who hasn't thought that they would devote more time to reading when they retired? With the evenings starting to lengthen, now might be a very good time to select a good book to settle down with. Michael's article provides some useful guidance on choosing worthwhile literature.

As life expectancy has increased, we all want to ensure that we enjoy our retirement in good health. Jeanette Lewis provides some good advice on slowing down the ageing process.

Feedback from readers is always welcome. Please let us know your thoughts on retirement and whether you think the perspectives described match your own experience in retirement.

E-mail your comments to editor@exploringretirement.co.uk.

Perspectives on retirement

The Third Age

The concept of retirement as a new life stage, a "third age", was introduced by Cambridge historian Peter Laslett in his 1989 book "A Fresh Map of Life". Laslett felt that the first age was were we move from childhood dependence to socialisation and education. The second age brings independence, maturity and responsibility, combined with earning and saving. In the 1980's, people tended to see retirement as the end of the second stage with little to look forward to but the beginning of an inevitable decline. In Laslett's view this did not reflect the reality of an increasingly long-lived and generally healthy older population. To counteract this negative stereotype, he introduced the concept of the "third age" - a time of achievement and personal fulfilment. He was at pains to point out that the second and third ages were not necessarily distinct but could, and often did, overlap. In Laslett's model, increasing infirmity and dependence on others, constituting the final fourth age, is viewed as coming much later.

As the year's have passed since Laslett first proposed the existence of a "third age", healthy life expectancy has continued to increase, making his model ever more relevant. Back in 1989 Laslett realised that there was a lag between the reality of what was happening and public awareness. To date the only significant UK Government policy response to our increasing life expectancy has been to extend the age at which the State pension begins to be paid. Firstly the retirement age for women was changed to make it equal to that of men at 65. This process should be complete by 2018 and the pension age will then increase to 66 by 2020, before rising again to 67 by 2026..

To be fair, the lack of imagination on behalf of central governments has been pretty well universal in the developed world. In 1989 Peter Laslett wrote "The institutions and instruments which have been created to meet the problem of ageing are in no position to provide us with a policy for that great majority of retired people who present no problem at all". Not much seems to have changed.

Earlier this year in the UK, Lord Wei produced a Report entitled "Next steps: Life transitions and retirement in the 21st century". He proposed the creation of a National Retirement Service, led by retirees. According to Lord Wei this new Service would be designed to assist those entering retirement, with the support of their employers and the state, to plan for the future, build self-help networks and engender trust across generations. A key recommendation of the report is that there is a need for a public policy forum to better understand life transitions.

NESTA, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts has begun to draw together on one site many of the initiatives that have already begun to emerge in the UK. To take a look at what they have found to date, click here

Successful Ageing

Throughout the 1980's and 90's there was a persistent preoccupation with disability, disease and age which was at odds with the reality that people were living both longer and healthier lives. This negative paradigm was challenged by Rowe and Kahn in their 1999 best seller "Successful Aging", which set out the importance of lifestyle choices to the well-being of older people. As they put it "We were trying to pinpoint the many factors that conspire to put one octogenarian on cross-country skis and another in a wheelchair"! Rowe and Kahn's model of successful ageing includes three components: avoidance of disease, maintenance of cognitive capacity and active engagement with life. Importantly Rowe and Kahn's book did not contain any "secret formula" but rather stressed the importance of healthy behaviours, maintained over a lifetime (good diet, exercise, social relations etc.).

Statistical analysis of the leading causes of death in the Western world reveal them to be heart disease, stroke and cancer. However, a deeper analysis which examines the causes of "the causes of death" points the finger of blame at smoking, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. These are all factors over which we have control. Adopting a healthy lifestyle would add both years to life and life to years.

Rowe and Kahn's model of successful ageing includes the maintenance of cognitive capacity, The Canadian Study of Health and Ageing followed more than 10,000 elderly Canadians over a ten-year period from 1991 to 2001. The results indicated that high levels of physical activity reduced by as much as half the risk of cognitive impairment, Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Another study, published in the Annals of Neurology, followed 2,258 elderly New Yorkers for four years. Adjusting for demographics and known risk factors, adherence to a mediterranean-style dietary pattern was the biggest predictor of low risk of Alzheimer's disease. The one-third of the subjects who followed the diet most closely, had 39-40% lower risk than the group with the lowest adherence. Combining a healthy diet with a fitness regime has been shown to lower the risk of Alzheimer's by up to 60%.

Retirement as a "new phase of life"

Retired Professor Mary Catherine Bateson has been one of the first people in the 21st century to address the issue of what to do with the extra years of healthy life. Very importantly she points out that the extra years should be considered to be spread across the life course and not just an extended period of low functioning tacked on to the end. We have not added decades of life expectancy simply by extending old age but rather we have opened up a new space partway through the life course, a second and different kind of adulthood that precedes old age, and as a result every stage of life is undergoing change. Our increased life span now includes a much longer period spent in education than was formerly the case and, with changes in government policy in the UK and elsewhere, people are being required to work for longer in order to qualify for a state pension. With the survival of many grandparents to become great-grandparents, we have in effect created the first four-generation society in history. Professor Bateson considers that "we have changed the shape and meaning of a lifetime in ways we do not yet fully understand".

In her book "Composing a Further Life", Professor Bateson makes this stirring declaration:

"Increased longevity will challenge us not only to revise expectations but also to discover unexpected possibilities, arranging life in new and satisfying patterns, and to explore how newly perceived possibilities relate to earlier life choices".

Professor Bateson is convinced that "we do not need formulas or rigid models to follow; we need to be drawn into a common process of search that will suggest new ways of being. We need distinctive individual voices rather than case studies. Particularly in an era of transition, the story is ill-told with statistics. For some people, every stage is stretched: longer years of education, longer experimentation before marriage, late child-bearing, and often deferred retirement. For others, life is started up again at mid-stream as if it could be repeated, a fairly common pattern for men with second families. For a third group, often women who have had a first career as homemakers, a new start on an autonomous career is involved. Some want to use an undeveloped talent, some want to build a legacy, some want to focus their energies and passions on an area that received only a fraction of their attention in the past".

As regards life planning in the third age, she suggests -

"Go toward the future with a plan that you are willing to let go of."

Or to quote Mark Twain -

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones that you did.

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore. Dream. Discover".

Featured activity - Retirement Associations

I was invited in September by the local branch of the Civil Servants Retirement Fellowship to give a short talk to their members. My topic was Exploring Retirement, of course! The local branch organises meetings on the second and fourth Monday of each month, with guest speakers on a wide range of topics of general interest. There was quite a good turnout for my talk, despite it being a lovely sunny day outside and several members of the audience expressed their appreciation and interest in the aims of the Exploring Retirement website.

Retirement Associations have been around for some time. We feature three in our useful links section - retired civil servants, police officers and teachers. The retired civil servants fellowship is one of the oldest associations in the UK and in 2015 will celebrate 50 years since it's foundation. They were set up as a charity, to provide support for retired civil servants, their partners and dependents. CSRF currently has two volunteering programmes, the Phone Buddy scheme and National Visitors Network which provide telephone based friendship calls and home visits to any beneficiary experiencing loneliness or social isolation. To visit the Civil Servants Retirement Fellowship website click here

The National Health Service Retirement Fellowship may be the largest retirement association in the UK with over 200 branches in England Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They promote many activities for retired members including a Seniors Golf Tour and Walking Holidays in the UK and abroad. To further expand their activities, they have teamed up with the Civil Servants Retirement Fellowship in a partnership designed to attract new members to both organisations. With membership of around 1700, Northern Ireland is the biggest Region, by far, in the United Kingdom. They also have a number of members who live outside Northern Ireland - in the Republic of Ireland, England, Scotland, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, the USA and the Netherlands. To learn more about the National Health Service Retirement Fellowship in the UK, click here.

The other retirement associations we feature in our useful links section are the Retired Teachers Association of Northern Ireland and the National Association of Retired Police Officers. Both of these organisations strive to lobby government on behalf of their members, principally in defence of pensions and pensioners benefits such as subsidised travel. All of these Associations have numerous local branches which meet regularly and constitute an important social network. They also organise social events such as regular "outings" and Annual Dinners. For those who are willing to serve on committees, they can perform a useful service for the other members. If you are seeking a new role in retirement, there are opportunities to stand for elected offices such as Chair, Secretary and Treasurer.


Beautiful Books - Michael McSorley

Michael looks at reading as a hobby. This is the time of year when book publishers unleash many new novels written by their big name authors, with their eyes clearly set on the rapidly approaching festive market.

Michael considers both fiction and non-fiction books which he has read based on recommendations from different sources. One book, a graphic novel, may be of particular interest to retiring people.

To read Michael's article click here.

Slowing Aging - Jeanette Lewis

Jeanette writes about staying healthy as we get older, which is very much in keeping with Rowe and Kahn's ideas on "successful ageing". You can read Jeanette's article by clicking here