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We Live Longer…Should We Work Longer?

With increasing public debt and budget deficit across countries, governments around the world have been under serious pressure to simultaneously reduce public debt and not jeopardize global recovery.

This tricky situation has led to many debates, among them the one about the average pension age.

Having followed discussions & arguments on the topic, I would summarise the issue as follows: should there be a default age or an arbitrary age limit to work? Should all workers be treated in the same way, regardless of the nature of their job?

Before going into details with arguments, I should point out that my answers to these questions would be motivated by the sense of freedom that I believe everybody should be entitled to.

In the UK, the coalition is proposing to increase the average pension age to 66 by 2016. In France, public sector workers were recently on strike again (not big news) because the government is proposing to increase the average pension age from 60 to 63. In Greece, the government was forced to acknowledge that the country was living beyond its means and that people were expecting everything without working hard; therefore among some harsh measures that were imposed on the Greek government by the EU & IMF, was the increase of the average state-pension age from 60 to 63. But the Greek labour minister Andreas Loverdos has been facing tough industrial actions from civil service organisations and trade unions.

My question to those strikers and protesters would be: what is the point of living longer with no money or a miserable pension?

In France for example, the official average retirement age is currently 60. If in past decades, the life expectancy was around 72 years old and the government could thus take care of retired people without creating a big hole in the state budget, this is no longer the case. Nowadays, with people living up to 80-85 years, how can we expect the same funds to cover, not 10 years of retirement but 20 years?!!!

Unquestionably, the standard of living is changing & improving around the world, people are living longer and better. So, should we amend labour legislation accordingly or should we stick to old rules and expect some kind of magic to happen in order to prevent budget deficit? Also, from a business standpoint, would it not be good to keep this experienced labour force active? To illustrate my thoughts, I will quote the British Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, who recently said: “people are living longer and healthier lives than ever, and the last thing we want is to lose their skills and experience from the workplace due to an arbitrary age limit” I would add to this quote “particularly when they are willing to work”.

To be honest and fair, if someone, regardless of whether he has worked as a farmer or a banker, would like to carry on working in order to contribute more and then have a better retirement, why shouldn’t he /she be allowed to do so? On the other hand, it should be clear that, if someone chooses to retire earlier – just because he/she does not want to work anymore- then he/she must not expect to receive the same money as people who used to retire at 60 then live up to 75, especially as he/she might live up to 85 years, if not longer.

I can hear some critics saying that, instead of asking older people to work longer, we should be giving those jobs to young jobseekers. Well, this raises the question on how we perceive “labour”. For me, work & the labour market are more likely to be infinitely elastic than like a fixed entity that would be divided among the available labour force. In other words, the more you work, the more it creates other jobs. So, stopping the elderly from working would not necessarily make the jobs available for younger jobseekers…it might even have a contrary effect.

So, let’s all adapt to this new challenge and stop limiting people due to their age…by the way, can someone check the average retirement age in the USA? 67 years old and 5% of the active population is over 70 years old!

“[Forced retirement] makes you feel pretty rotten, 

as if you’re stuck on the shelf and put to one side”

John White, 70 retired postman.



August 14, 2010 - Posted by | Articles In English, Economics, International Economics, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Interesting! it seems that this subject matter could be a good ‘discourse’ . Personally, I second the idea of Secretary Smith and the blogger.

    Comment by ramesh gyawali | August 19, 2010 | Reply

  2. I probably disagree with this article. Some of your arguments are compelling and very practical but my overall understanding of work is fundamentally removed from your business oriented definition. This is precisely why I wrote my dissertation on Capitalism, Work & Money–obviously offering a Christian critique of Western society. I defined what work is and tried to analyse the motivation for working, which led me to also look at the relationship between money and happiness. These are big concepts but I felt them necessary to tackle because ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ according to Socrates.

    But it’s still a good article but the likes of Max Weber and Emile Durkheim (early pioneers of social sciences) were already dealing with these issues almost a 100yrs ago. Money and work are concepts that have literally come to define us as individuals. And it is easy to make this the focus of our existence and ultimately defining life through this precarious and narrow prism of existence. Obviously these are huge existential questions and concepts, with equally massive implications.

    Part of my rationale rests on the assumption that Capitalism is essentially driven by the need to make money and accumulate capital. In fact the term Capitalism was coined by nineteenth century scholars, who in most likelihood actually meant ‘economic individualism’. Therefore, ‘economic individualism’s basic premise is that the pursuit of self-interest and the right to own private property are morally defensible and legally legitimate.

    And here lies part of the problem with your article which left a lot undefined i.e. work or labour, money (on money there is a good book by Georg Simmel, called The Philosophy of Money worth reading) & the dominant Capitlaistic system which is driven by the exploitation of labour whilst the employer owns capital assets (the state protects them by property rights or laws) and takes the profits.Therefore, in producing capital (money) rather than commodities (goods or services) the workers continually reproduce the economic conditions by their labour (laws of motion).

    Already we have a few problems here. Firstly, we have an ideological system that underpins most western economies and is highly individualistic when viewed from a socio-economic perspective. Perhaps I am advocating for a community oriented framework that seeks to look after the elderly. Secondly, we have a system that promotes consumerists behaviour which also feeds into all our environmental problems. Surely we cannot continue to consume knowing very well that we inhabit a world with finite resources? Yet again, your article did not broaden or define the context which drives work and its subsequent impact.

    Here is a rather long quote from my dissertation and why in part I disagree with your article:

    ”David Harvey, in his book, The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism, highlights that in the last thirty years approximately 2 billion wage labourers have been added to the global labour market. According to Harvey, capitalism often creates an intense environment of competition for work that is usually beneficial to those who control the market. And it is Emile Durkheim who showed the link between happiness and the economic well-being of an individual. Durkheim argued that, although the physical needs necessary for humans are quantifiable and can be satisfied by material needs; yet the cravings for such needs and luxuries can be insatiable. Durkheim came to the conclusion that there is nothing to indicate that the psychological formation of humans has a limit to these appetites and the desire of these wants or needs is infinite.This explains Harvey’s rationale about the competition within the labour market. And in chapter 2 we showed how the capitalistic mode of production has resulted in ‘technological alienation’, a process in which one class exploits another for profit and ‘market alienation’ which reduces the worker to a commodity and the specialisation of labour promotes mundane and repetitive tasks.”

    Beyond the obvious practical necessity of work to provide for our needs, surely, what more benefit is there of working from cradle to grave? The retired postman whom you quote in your article has probably come to define himself with what he does? Unfortunately our jobs have come to shape our identities (postman) and give us meaning and value. But we are not the sum of our parts and the intrinsic and sanctity of what it means to be human has somewhat been overlooked. So, we fall back on things like work to define us and further the interests of those who benefit the most from such ideological biases.


    Comment by Nick | May 20, 2014 | Reply

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