Historically, old age was something to be feared, often accompanied by ill health and infirmity.

At a time when many jobs relied on being physically robust, being unfit was the road to impoverishment.

Shorter life expectancy and financial insecurity meant relatively few old people could look forward to comfortable retirements.

Immediately after the Second World War, things changed for the better. The safety net of the welfare state and the birth of the NHS, significantly improved the lives and security of older people.

Medical advances reduced illness and incapacity. Fewer of the elderly had to toil into old age in physically demanding jobs. The upward trajectory has continued into the present day when, for many, retirement has become the “golden years”. If in doubt, have a look around when you next take a winter flight to the Canaries.

Improved health has extended retirement, with more of us living into our 80s. Quality retirement though, isn’t evenly distributed. In our poorest areas, too many die before collecting a pension.

In contrast, several of my relatives were retired longer than they worked. Increasing longevity is good news, but it raises issues that require answers sooner rather than later. If the late 1940s witnessed a sea change in attitudes to old age and retirement, the 2020s are likely to see a further rethink and reset.

The most pressing will be the funding of our lengthier lives and retirement. In less than 20 years, around 25 per cent of my fellow Aberdonians will be over 65. At the same time, the proportion of those in work will decline further. We can’t expect those of working age to support an ever-growing band of retirees.

They are the “sandwich generation”, supporting their own families while footing the bill for their parents’ pensions. The young suspect, probably correctly, they’ll also be left holding the tab for the billions spent alleviating the effects of Covid.

According to insurance company Aviva, over 40% of 18 to 24-year olds believe they will be working well into their 70s. More flexibility and better planning are needed if a pensions crisis is to be averted. At one time the retirement date was set in stone. Long-serving employees received the gold watch or carriage clock before being shown the door on their 60th or 65th birthdays. The state pension kicked in the following day.

The qualifying age for the state pension is now 67 and on an upward path. For many, retirement could be something of a mirage, constantly moving just that bit further away. Retirement has always been a “health and wealth” issue. Research suggests a relationship between retirement and increased vulnerability to heart attacks, strokes and disease.

There may be some truth in the saying, retirement kills more people than hard work. Most at risk are those who suddenly go from full-time employment into full on retirement.

While it’s inevitable most of us are going to have to work longer, the blow could be softened by full-time employment leading naturally into a period of winding down. There would be a gradual transition into the life changing event called retirement. Control of one’s time might even come to be seen as more desirable than money, benefitting our mental and physical health.

According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, many retirees underestimate the drop in their income. In time, automatic enrolment in workplace pensions might help plug the gap, but it won’t remove the need for early planning. In the US, the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) movement is gathering pace. Websites such as Early Retirement Extreme promote ways to save and convert present earnings into long-term income streams. In the UK, the mounting cost of pensions may require us to take similar responsibility for our old age. If so, personal flexibility and planning will be the key to taking the tension out of pension.

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