Concerns about age used to be centred on living long enough to be able to provide for our families and see our children grow up. Now that it seems those wishes for longevity have come true (in the most part for those living in the developed World) concerns are regarding quality of life, and perhaps more specifically whether our bodies and/or minds will last long enough to not be a burden on our families in our old age.
Nobody likes to think of themselves as old. Unfortunately it’s pretty inevitable, for all of us, and that also makes it totally relative. Rather than the categories of ‘old’ and ‘young’, it’s really just about older and younger. Just like the default retirement age was arbitrary, there’s no magic age where a line is drawn and once you’ve passed that point you’re old.
Yet that line still exists in the minds of many people today, including those who were looking forward to retiring at a certain age. However it’s the persisting misnomer that young equals good and old equals bad that is the most damaging. Just look up “old” in the thesaurus and you’ll see synonyms like “debilitated”, “impaired” and “past one’s prime”. There’s just one positive among them – “experienced”.
I really do think that old is getting older (or maybe I’m just getting old). Sixty is the new forty and eighty is the new sixty. Yes people are living longer and living healthier, and along with that comes consequences. Because pension funds are having to pay out longer after retirement, those joining the workforce right now will need to pay in, and work, much longer. Employers seemed to have cottoned on to the changing demographics but not how to handle it. We’re hearing a lot of worrying about multi-generational workplaces (read into that “talent management problems”; and read into talent management problems “how do we encourage older people to move on so younger people can get their jobs”).
We’re also getting confusion over benefits packages and what an older persons offer should look like. Really there’s not much more to it than increased pensions options, and auto-enrolment will reduce the likelihood that people are under prepared in that arena. I can no more speak for a sixty year old than I can for a twenty year old, but I’m pretty sure all age ranges want the same kinds of benefits options. I’ve heard older people like to go on cruises…but then wouldn’t we all like nice holidays? There may be an older person’s market for tartan bootie slippers and denture cream, but it’s niche. A bit like the younger person’s market for glow sticks and diet pills.
It’s not the law holding us back now, it’s our inherent bias about being old and what that means. That really needs to change because the negativity is getting, well, old.