As a new study out today shows that people in the UK think 59 is old (they obviously haven’t met my 71 year old mother or 76 year old father who are FAR from being considered old by themselves or others!) . Why wait till you’re 59, asks Jilly Forster, when you can start reinventing your approach to later life today?
So, UK people believe that old age starts at 59. But we shouldn’t always believe what the study* tells us. For, when it comes to age, people in Britain can be choosy with the truth.
In anxiety-ridden times such as these, many people are just longing for a time when contingency stops calling and they no longer have the worry and responsibility of work. Ours is a culture where work is not valued by the majority. We just want to escape it. Thus, when we say that old age begins at 59, it’s just a way of wishing in a time when we think we ought to be putting our feet up. But, we had better rethink the situation. Life is getting longer and many of us are going to have to prepare for a later life very different to that which we might have been expecting. One in which 59 is very early on in our considerations. One in which putting our feet up is something we continue to do at the end of a working day, long into our dotage. Besides, we never really get old, do we? We routinely think that ‘old people’ are those 15 years older than ourselves, whatever our age.
59 is considerably younger than other European countries regard as ‘old’
If, on average, 59 is 9 years younger than other European countries use for their old-age threshold, this may also point to a different work-life balance in the lives of our continental neighbours. Attitudes towards old age tend to be related to when we believe we’re going to retire. Greeks retire in their 50s, with life left to live, and believe old age begins at 68. Increasingly, we Brits are uncertain as to when, or even if, we can retire.
That said, we’re really going to have to challenge our own attitudes and assumptions to living (and working and learning) in later life. Steve Webb, the Pensions Minister is right. We need to forget the numbers game. This is no time to think about sitting back. The future of our later lives is about considering opportunities and challenges. More and more people want to and will have to remain economically active. Fewer people can afford to retire and enforced retirement may even become undesirable. The fuzzy lines between generations are disappearing, meaning that age is no boundary for people who remain healthy.
Ultimately, later life, post 59, 69 or even 79, will be best lived in the spirit of reinvention. We might want to start thinking about that today.
* Predictors Of Attitudes To Age Across Europe, Kent University – commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions
Jilly Forster is founder of the Forster Agency . Earlier in her career Jilly helped Anita Roddick set up the Body Shop and was a founder Board member of the Big Issue