by rantywoman

I spread my financial documents out a few days ago and found I was correct that I might be able to retire as early as eight years from now. Ten or twelve would be better from a financial viewpoint (with, of course, twenty being best of all), while six would be the lowest possibility.

I have some fun plans lined up for the rest of this year, but after that, I don’t know what is going to keep me engaged until I move to the retirement phase!

Some people might wonder what I will do with myself in retirement and if I will be happier. Having just had a trial run of being unemployed, I can say with confidence that I can keep busy and am happier not working. Yesterday, for instance, I dragged myself out of bed, hurriedly ran some errands on the way to work, made a bit of small talk with coworkers while multitasking like a maniac, and then trudged home from work at the end of the day, managing to get to the farmer’s market on the way back. Had I had the day to myself, I would have gotten those errands done and also finished my pile of books and made a trip to the library, gotten my laundry done and the house cleaned, done some cooking, gone to the beach, done some yoga, and possibly gone out that night to do something interesting. The latter scenario is the one that appeals.

Anything can happen, of course, over the next eight years. There’s a slight possibility I could meet someone, although I admit that seems less and less possible. The other big unknown is how long my mother will live. Will she make it to a “normal” old age (mid-late eighties) and then peacefully pass away? If so, that would coincide with the time period in which I want to retire and would ease those plans. Or will she live to an old old age, with all the long, drawn-out health problems that could ensue? That will impact my options.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we are all living too long and the structure of the job market makes the problem worse. Should we work for forty-five years straight with only two weeks off a year so that we will be okay financially in our seventies, when we are truly old? I have several friends like myself who have older mothers who are miserable and lonely in their old age. How does one raise kids if one is working all the time without a break? If you have them early and remove yourself from the workplace, you lose valuable investment years, and then you have to compete with all the younger folks when you try to get back in. If you take a break later in life, in your forties, you will hit the ageism issue when you try to return. And because they are trying to save for their old age, people aren’t retiring, so there aren’t jobs and opportunities for younger people.

I refuse to be hard on myself for not having kids under these conditions. It’s a very difficult thing to figure out.

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In the years after she retired, for example, Aunt Millie followed the pattern of labor, leisure, travel and volunteer work that dominated most of her adult life. In her 70’s, she went to camp in the Berkshires, worked with young children and the blind, did some part-time bookkeeping, spent the winters in Florida and filled her evenings with movies, concerts and plays. In other words, she kept busy, which seems to be our society’s answer to questions of meaning and existence.

Meanwhile, the years passed and now she is truly old, too infirm to shuffle off to Miami Beach or to read to second graders or to take in a light opera the first Tuesday of every month. The life of the “oldest old,” as those over 85 are known, is marked by what gerontologists call the “dreadful D’s” — decline, deterioration, dependency, death. From second summer to chill winter.

The Japanese, with their healthy diet, good healthcare and advanced medicine, have the highest life expectancy in the world. In 2008, nearly a quarter of the population, or 28.2 million people, was over 65. By 2030, 1 in 3 Japanese will be senior citizens. If civilization is the struggle against death, then surely Japan’s high life expectancy is a triumph of human culture.

But according to Florian Coulmas of the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo, the Japanese are “exhausted” and the mood in the country is “depressed.” They are burdened by the lengths of their lives.

And in fact, Japan, a place where suicide isn’t utterly taboo, has seen a dramatic rise in senior citizens taking their own lives.

The odds are 31 percent — almost one in three — that one member of a 65-year-old couple will live to age 95. The odds are one in 10 — 10 percent — that one member of this couple will live to age 100.

But most people aren’t financially prepared to live that long or deal with the uncertainty of their actual lifespan. Retirement planning would be easier if you knew exactly how long you’ll live. So what can you do to protect yourself against the risk of living too long? Stay tuned for my next post.