IN 1965, ANDRÉ-FRANÇOIS RAFFRAY, a 47-year-old lawyer in southern France, made the deal of a lifetime. Charmed by an apartment in Arles, he persuaded the widow living there that if he paid her 2,500 francs (then about $500) a month until she died, she would leave it to him in her will. Since she was already 90, it seemed like a safe bet. Thirty years later, Mr Raffray was dead and the widow, Jeanne Louise Calment, was still going strong. When she eventually passed away at 122, having become the world’s oldest person, the Raffray family had paid her more than twice the value of the house.
Today, celebrating your 100th birthday isn’t as farfetched as it sounds. Centenarians have become the norm, rather than the rarity, that would generate a headline in the local newspaper. And a lot of them ….are women.
My passion for reading obituaries led me to the same conclusion. For the last few years, I’ve noticed women are living much longer. I remember how wonderful one family described the life of their mom, of not just “surviving”, but “really living”, describing the passing “of a grand lady …after 98 active years.”
The Canadian Institute of Actuaries’ 2014 mortality study reported that a 65-year-old couple has a 25% chance that one spouse ( odds are it’s the wife) will live to at least age 97 and a 10% chance that one will live to at least age 101.
For the most part, planning has been about numbers – savings and the amount necessary to ensure financial security--making sure that our lifespan doesn’t outlive our wealth span; certainly not incorrect, but woefully incomplete.
Today, how we decide to fill the days, so we flourish as we age, has truly become the women’s issue.
Two-plus decades of retirement is about 8,000 days. That’s a whole lot of days! Put another way, life between the age you can legally start drinking and what many might call midlife in their later 40s, is another 8,000 days. And, from midlife, to the seemingly preordained retirement age of 65 years old, is – you guessed it – about another 8,000 days.
The point is retirement is not a brief period of life after full-time work; rather, retirement is equal to one-third of your adult life.
Are you “financially fit” to live to 100?
Refusing to acknowledge longevity’s steady march distorts people’s decision about how much to save and, equally as important, when to retire.
Retirement is likely to be the most expensive item any family will purchase. Yet, unlike most things in life, it remains an elusive vision rather than a tangible product or experience that can be tasted, worn, driven or lived in.
One size does not fit all.
Normal retirement age is no longer normal for everyone.
Reframing retirement for what it is, one third of adult life, forces us to realize that there are far more opportunities, and challenges, than our current story of retirement planning includes.
It’s unlikely to be the vision of a brief period of earned recreation and relaxation imprinted in our imaginations by media and financial product guides.
Longevity –At the Core of all Planning
Yet unlike other life stages, in retirement there are far fewer guideposts to help us navigate. 8,000 days sitting at a café is not realistic for most. And not even desirable for many.
While pleasures are important, studies have shown the key to fulfillment in life is having a purpose.
It’s critical we take a new view of what retirement should be: not a toggle switch—no work at all, after years of full-time labor—but a continuum on which perhaps a person gradually downshifts to half-time, then to working now and then.
I’ve witnessed lawyers “winding down”, doing mediation and arbitration; others have found philanthropy or a hobby unexpectedly becoming a second career.
So let’s call it the “retirement track” rather than retirement: a phase of continuing to earn and save as full-time work winds down.
Viewing retirement as a full, long 8,000 days should stimulate the imagination. It’s a time to explore what will sustain, enliven and enrich you- maybe we should call it “the art of vibrant living”. Let’s all strive to be “grand ladies” who live long active lives.
Today, women live in a world where 100 years of life is the “new normal”, and older female consumers are the pioneers who will bring innovation to the frontier of aging.
♫♫I ain't ready for the junkyard yet
Cause I still feel like a new corvette
It might take a little longer but I'll get there
Well I don't need your rockin' chair♫♫
♫♫Retirement don't fit in my plans
You can keep your seat I'm a gonna stand
An Eskimo needs a Fridgedaire
Like I need your rockin' chair♫♫
….. George Jonas – I Don’t Need Your Rockin’Chair