A Retiring Disposition

Recently in my Facebook page, the matter of retirement came up.  I will admit as far as I’m concerned it’s ALWAYS been a moot point.

I love the way they assure us there will be social security money for my generation when – since the seventies – we’ve known there wouldn’t be almost all our lives.  And the economy being what it is and our investments having shrunk like an ice-cube in summer, well!  It’s not like it ever appeared a likely thing.  Sure, I might find myself around sixty five or so with the wherewithal to retire.  I also might find myself with the capacity to fly if aliens invaded the Earth and…

But it goes deeper than that.  The money thing is why I never gave it much thought, or if I did it was to shrug and go “Whatever.”

I realized retirement didn’t apply to me anyway when – a few years ago – daydreaming about winning the lottery I found myself thinking “And then I’d have SO MUCH time to write.”

My dears, when you reach that point, that all you can think of to do with money is to sweep out of your way all the dross of the workaday world – shopping, cooking, cleaning – so you can work more, you might as well face it: you’re not retirement material.

And then I started wondering if I was really that different from the average person of my age and education.  The people who chimed in on the conference all said something like “the only thing I would want to do in my retirement is what I do now!”

There are exceptions.  I know a lot of you intend to retire or are already retired: those of you who served in the military; those who have professions – like truck driving – that require a certain amount of visual acuity, strength and coordination, and others.

But the way I’m looking at it is historically, and I think we might be entering the early days of the demise of retirement as a concept.  Bear with me.

Retirement as an idea is actually quite young, a product of the late industrial revolution (in the early industrial revolution there really wasn’t time to retire, as the technology itself killed you off early – though there are indications they still lived longer than field hands.)  The jobs the industrial revolution produced and which created a middle class out of thin air, were not exactly things to sing about.  They produced a lot of wealth, mind, but no one could get particularly excited about spending his life tending some machine or other.  So this idea formed that when you were too old to tend the machines, you’d get paid for two or five or ten years to actually do what you wanted to do.

I think the heyday of this concept was around the fifties, when retired people would finally drive around and see the country.  

It was affordable, of course, because people didn’t live that long, the next generation was larger and could support them in style and… all things that don’t apply.  Let us not worry our heads about that, shall we?

Instead, let’s look at how things were before the industrial revolution – beyond the fact that lives were a lot shorter – a grandmother might do less and less of the work and take on a more supervisory capacity as daughter or daughter in law took over the actual house work.  A grandfather might sit at home repairing the tools used in the fields, or go out with the younger guys to tell them “this is where you dig.”  Or “In my grandfather’s time, when there was a drought like this, we did–”

Mind, this is semi idyllic and it depends on who you believe.  Some authors say most of the Middle Ages were like that.  Others say there were vast numbers of orphan children, some as young as five, roaming the countryside, because most people died around thirty.

Do I know who’s right?  I suspect both are, depending on WHEN in the 1000 year span of the Middle ages – and where too.  On the other hand, I have an instinctive disbelief in happy pastoralists, having grown up in a village and all.

Let’s leave that aside and admit that no one – no one – expected to have five years of weekends – let alone twenty – at the end of life.  For one, the society didn’t have that kind of wealth.

Well, to an extent we’re starting to transition out of the industrial age.  It’s just the very beginning, but a lot of us have jobs that require us to use our mind – or even our hands – in creative ways.  There are intimations and whispers of robots taking over those sectors where we need mass production (there will always be sectors like that) and having the machines supervised by one man, remotely, a work that will be more mental than not.

(As a side note, let me point out those who look at that and say “but what about the people not suited to mind work?” – stop wringing your hands.  What if they stuck that way? – Stop underestimating people whose minds don’t work like yours.  Given time and space and a wealthy enough society, yeah, you’ll find people who do absolutely nothing – the listless you’ll always have with you – but there will also be a lot of other things people discover to do, up to and including some old skills like cabinet making.  If you think there’s no difference between mass produced and the work of a master carpenter, you haven’t grown up in the workshop of the latter.  (I did.)  And if you think lack of verbal or abstract thought ability means people will find nothing to do in the new economy, you’re by far underestimating humans.)

And when you’re looking at that, and at work getting unpegged from a central location, too, and becoming something that’s more than likely done out of the home at least part of the time – what does retirement mean?

Besides, we’re all living longer.  I come from a long lived line anyway.  My grandmother and great grandmother lived into their late eighties with little better than medieval health care.  So I’m looking at at least twenty five years after sixty five and likely more.  You know, a month off now and then to laze about and read would be great, but … twenty five years?  What would I do about the ideas that came crowding?

I doubt Dan will ever retire, either.  Our ideal would be to reach a state where he’s working from home, so we can rearrange our hours better and he has time to write, but that’s about it.  I mean, there are programs he’d like to try writing, there are books to work on, but retire?  What would he do with himself?

The truth is for most of my generation and those a little older than I – now hitting their early sixties – the idea of retirement is a confusing concept.  It’s not even “with what” or “how?” but “Why?”  

Even those who are forced to retire or have the type of profession that comes with a full retirement pension are more likely to just take on another job, instead of retiring.  A lot of the previous generation is already doing this.  (Both my parents started new careers around 45, though I doubt my mother thought of it that way.  My dad finally retired at 80, not because he couldn’t do the job, but because he was required to drive an hour each way.  For all I know mom is still working – her work being managing the family’s finances.)

There are two factors in this: we’re living very long PRODUCTIVE lives.  Remember when people got a watch and a letter of recognition at 25 years.  Suppose you do that.  You started working at 25, at 50 you get your gold watch… and you’re easily looking at another 25, 35 years (depending on the stock you come from) of productive life.  Retirement?  Why squander all that time?

The other factor is that a lot of us – granted not most, not all of us – don’t live working lives of quiet desperation.  I could wish for the publishing establishment to get its head out of its nether regions.  I could.  I could wish for publishers to get a clue now and then.  I could wish publicists at houses actually publicized.  BUT – but – I could not wish to enjoy writing more than I already do.  Or to live without doing it.

I would bet most of us in skilled professions are the same.

This doesn’t mean we don’t need money “for a rainy day.”  Heaven knows there will be those and sometimes it will pour.  But saving for a five, ten or twenty five year vacation is a strange endeavor.

It hit me that this is just one of the transformations underway.  Like ebooks, like computer tech, like the changes to come to education and medicine and law (even as our legislative critters are trying to pull all of them backwards into the industrial age.  Never mind.  The future will defeat them) the future will be different in ways most of us can’t even think through.

We live in interesting times – but it is not all bad.

105 responses to “A Retiring Disposition

  1. I know how I’ll be spending my retirement: living with one or another of my kids, homeschooling the grandkids while their parents both go to work, and writing when I can.

    The prospect does not appal me.

  2. Since I was in my early twenties and knew that social security was almost bankrupt (they have been saving it since the 1980s), I have put retirement out of my mind. My hubby turned sixty-five last month and he is still working. He decided that he couldn’t afford to retire. Personally I think he needs another two week vacation, but not another twenty years. 😉

    In my case I was forcibly retired after my first crisis. I tried to work for six months (about two years into the disease), but being in close contact with people made me very ill. My doctor told me that if I worked in an office I would probably last another decade. So after my head got back in order, I started to write. I have been writing pretty continuously since 2007. (1998-2003 and then 2007-until now … not counting the poetry I have been writing since I was nine.) First poem was a limerick ;-).

    If I didn’t write, I would go insane.
    I do try and get my hubby to take a small vacation every year so that he can relax. Other than that, I never thought that I would make enough money to tour the country. (plus I would have to be near a doctor,) AND I did want to RV coast to coast. Except I would be writing… always… I don’t see it as work.

    Very good post… enjoyed it…

    • BTW my great-grandmother lived to 98. She died in the early 1980s so her medical care was not always the best.

      • Neither parent made it to Social Security age. I take after my Dad’s side so I’m expecting heart problems around 60.

        • Ouch – that’s bad although from what I see heart health is taken very seriously by the medical field today. You will probably live longer than your parents. 😉

    • Wayne Blackburn

      For me, it wasn’t so much hearing that Social Security was going bankrupt, it was just the simple arithmetic that comes from knowing how the program was set up to begin with, combined with the fact that average lifespans are greatly increasing. Since about the same time as you, Cyn, I’ve expected to work until I was at least 85, and have been saying that if they want to keep Social Security as an active program, they would have to start raising the minimum age. But of course, that isn’t going to happen.

      • Social Security differs from a Ponzi scheme in that it is backed by the full faith and credit of the US Government … which has reserved the right to change terms of the annuity at will and has (victoriously) asserted in court that it is under no actual obligation to pay anything to anybody. So you may be utterly confident that you will receive every Social Security payment to which you are entitled.

      • Yea – If I live to be 85 ;-)… Interesting times. I hope that eventually I will get some readers and then my novels with pickup. If so, I could have a pretty comfortable life… writing and selling.

  3. When Social Security was established, with a retirement age of 65 the average life expectancy was about 65 years, 9 months. As anybody who knows statistics and human health could probably affirm, a lot of poor people died before 65 years and a few well-to-do people (the kind who could afford regular meals and doctors when they couldn’t stop coughing) lived well past that mark.

    • I quote Chris Rock: “Social Security starts at 65; the average black man dies at 54.” (The historical implications of that statement should be obvious. >;) )

      • Happily for those who this strikes as unfair, the average black man’s contribution to Social Security is steadily dropping.

        I mean, a baldfaced racist lie deserves a baldfaced racist comeback, right? Isn’t that how that works? I’m not good at this.

        • I don’t think CF was endorsing Chris Rock’s nonsense — Just saying that SS was designed to kick in AFTER most people would have died. I think we all know that. Of course I could be wrong. CF enjoys being a gadfly.

          • I’m not so sure we all know that. (‘It ain’t what we don’t know, it’s what we know that ain’t necessarily so.”) People who die before attaining working age are irrelevant to the relationship between workers supporting SS and retirees receiving benefits. What was the average life expectancy of a person who reached working age at the time the SSA was passed?


            Aha: http://www.ssa.gov/history/lifeexpect.html

            The average man who reached working age in 1939 was likely to receive benefits for more than three years. The average person who reached 65 was likely to collect benefits for nearly thirteen years. And for women the numbers are even higher.

            As you can see, they had actuaries in those days: the trend in life expectancies was clear. I submit to you that the people who actually implemented it knew good and darn well that they were NOT designing a system which would have relatively few claimants achieve benefit status and retain it for any length of time.

            • Argh. Sorry about not closing the italic tag.

            • well, maybe not, but they didn’t count on twenty years, either. Also, they had the expectation of ever-larger generations.

              • If I had to pick one thing that could fairly be said to have messed up SS worse than its designers anticipated, it would be inflation and the related cost-of-living increases, not increased lifespan. The trend in lifespan was clear. The trend in inflation, not so much. We’d only been off the gold standard for a few years, and we still had a back-door tie to gold-backed currency. Constant war, vast militarization, and a huge increase in social welfare payouts all had to be paid for and they were paid for by diluting dollars. The problem is COLA benefits don’t dilute. One reason that the “official” measure of inflation has been getting farther and farther away from reality is that if it were measured as it was when SS was implemented the benefit payouts would be enormously greater.

                • Inflation – oh my, oh yes, oh damn. Go to a card shop (or book store – they used to stock these at Borders) and look for the spinner/rack of “you were born in —-” cards. Each card contains, along with a listing of significant news events, basic economic data: price of a gallon of milk, of gas, of an average new car, avg new house, avg annual wages. Look at every fifth card and you will see prices were pretty stable until the Seventies. Then, thanks to Nixon/Ford and esp. Carter the slope of that curve drastically increases and never really abates. Compounded, that has a real effect.

        • I’m not good at this.

          Take heart. Prophets have begun their careers with less humility.

  4. Most of the time I love what I do but I’m at one of the few places that will hire older people in my profession (programmer). Most places want kids or H1B workers that they can make work 80 hour weeks. My husband saw this at his last job.
    My husband wants to retire so he can spend more time doing astronomy and graphics programming. I have too many hobbies already but would like to do more database programming.

  5. We live in interesting times – but it is not all bad.

    If my children aren’t shamed into believing that they have to go to advanced daycare…er…college, it won’t be all bad.

  6. I have to be honest, Sarah. My main concern isn’t that Social Security won’t be there for me. My concern is that it will be–and will be paid for with confiscatory tax rates.

    • Yes, that would be a worst case scenario. I just never expected it to be, so it wasn’t a consideration, just like I don’t care if the tooth fairy were a public employee.

  7. I actually have a pension (a military one, which is small but adequate) but I had actually counted on working full-time for a regular employer until I had the mortgage on the house that I am living in paid off. (I’m not counting on social security either.) That plan lasted until six years ago when I got let go from the last full-time… and I decided that I would rather stay at home and write. I’ve part-timed here and there, sold some articles, blogged for pay, collected royalty payments for my books, edited other people’s books, built a couple of simple websites, went into partnership with a tiny local publisher … I’ll basically be working until I’m carted away. The thing about being officially retired though – is that you can do the work you want to do, not the work that you need to do.

  8. I’ve never planned on retiring because my parents warned Sib and I that we have to provide for ourselves – there will be no federal hammock by the time either of us turns 68 or 70. And this was 20 years ago.

    As for skills . . . when my father retired, he took up wood working and now makes furniture, garden gates, and other items. He asks for an assist now and then moving especially bulky or awkward pieces, but his mind remains sharp and he’s more skilled than ever with his tools. He “retired” because of no longer being able to deal well with 72 hours on-call (years, miles, whatever, caught up with him), but he’s still working.

  9. The military spent THREE BILLION DOLLARS on a twenty-year study to find out why so many people who retired from the military died within three years. The ones that died were all people for which the military was their whole lives. Everything they did revolved around and involved the military. The ones that had outside interests lived longer, period. Even those like me whose military career beat the heck out of them and left them less than whole lived longer, if we had an outside interest.

    They applied the same evaluation techniques to people who worked on assembly lines and got the same results, although not so cut-and-dried. Human beings are not designed to be machine tools. The wider your range of interest, the more different things you do, the healthier and longer you’ll live. Robert Heinlein summed it up: Specialization is for insects.

    • Which may explain my polymath tendencies and the multiple hats I’ve worn (and continue to wear) over the years. I suppose you could say I have already retired from gov’t work, although it wasn’t a formal retirement and I was much too young. I plan on writing until I’m unable to do so, or until the economy is so bad that it is no longer profitable to do so and I have to go find another job that pays something. (Please, G-D, let it not get that bad!) But yeah, they kept trying to stick everyone into cookie-cutter molds, where you do the same bloody freakin’ thing every day and I couldn’t stand it.

      • Wayne Blackburn

        That would be at least part of the reason that I didn’t hold a job for more than two years before I got my helpdesk job in 1998. Besides paying better, computer work, even when it involves speaking regularly to clueless people (and, being a corporate helpdesk, the incidence of the truly clueless was lower than that for public contact), is not nearly so repetitious and boring.

        On of my problems with trying to do something independent is focus. I can’t keep a focus on one thing long enough to make a go at making money at it.

        • Is this an “odd” thing or a human thing? I don’t mind certain routines, provided I set them, but set-in-stone job routines drive me up the wall and made me into the writing bum I am today.

  10. masgramondou

    In the UK the government retirement scheme is financed (allegedly) out of soemthing called “National Insurance”. The rationale was that if you got to be 65 you were pretty much bound to be a physical cripple and couldn’t work to support yourself. And in the early 1900s when the UK system was set up (and the Prussian one in the 1890s? ) the average laborer died well before 65 so there was little cost to the nation to support the lucky few who made it. These days of course it is all rather different.

    My mother once said (I paraphrase) that one thing schools never teach people is how to live a life of semi-activity or inactivity. Most people are simply terrible at finding something to do that is stimulating when they aren’t forced to do so by needing to earn the money to feed/clothe/house themselves or their loved ones. This is something that you certainly notice down here on the riviera where semi-retirement often seems to turn into getting sloshed on a bottle of rose every other lunchtime and two more in the evening and as a result semi-retirment tends to turn into full retirement caused by being fired. Which then leads to even more days of rose drinking and the subsequent pickling of brain cells. Thanks to modern healthcare the resulting retired lushes tend to survive for decades (unless they encounter an unexpected roundabout while driving home drunk) but it isn’t a very appealing lifestyle. It also isn’t sustainable as the rest of Europe can’t afford to pay the pensions of said lushes.

    I think we need to find ways to teach people how to handle a 2 day work week (or perhaps more realistically working 2-3 months a year). And Ithink this is going to become more important as the regular 9-5 office job goes down the same drain as the regular 9-5 metal-bashing job.

    The fact that I can handle this kind of semi-activity just fine, and the fact that many of the people readign this blog can too, doesn’t stop it from being a problem for a lot of others,

    Moreover it seems to me that the welfare state sorts of government actively make this worse because if you volunteer to do soemthing then you remove the need for it to be done by a government body. Hence they tend to regulate/red tape it out of existence. “You need a license for that”, “Our insurance won’t cover volunteer Xs” etc.

    • Schools taught me plenty about living a life of semi-activity or inactivity — I spent most of my school years sitting around waiting for other kids to finish assignments, or for teachers who knew less of the material than I did to stop droning; I learned so well, in fact, that between that and being a White Male Heterosexual in the ’90s, I couldn’t get a job to save my life….

      And now, I see all the signs that this culture is falling apart at the seams — and to help it along, all I have to do is sit back and do nothing…. >:)

      • Schools also teach you the ‘look busy’ attitude; where you look busy so they don’t give you some other mindlessly boring task to do.

  11. Retirement is something you do from a job you dislike.

    • Retirement is something you do from a job you dislike

      If you like the job, you quit as an employee forever on Friday and come in on Monday as a “consultant”.

      • Not necessarily true, Scott. I love looking at aerial imagery – the job I had in the Air Force. I just got tired of working for the Air Force, and I sure in heDoubleHockeySticks didn’t want to work for the CIA – or in DC. That left me with very few choices, and I went to work breaking computers – something else I enjoyed. I still work occasionally looking at imagery, especially when there’s a natural or man-made disaster, and I can get the &#%$#^%$#%$@%$#%$ imagery. Apparently Google doesn’t like freelancers, nor do most of the people that supply imagery to Google. It’s a shame. I think I really did some good during the 2005 Christmas tsunami in Indonesia, and during the Haiti earthquake. I’ve got some photos and reports on my blog, but they’re old.

        • If you come across some good imagery of either Alcatraz Island, the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, CA, or the Newport News Shipyards in Hampton Roads VA, PLEASE let me know. Trying to get specific info about those places has undoubtedly put me on the no-fly list, but they’re integral to my story.

          • Well, okay…not Alcatraz, but try finding a good 3D fly-through version of the island that will let you see what a person standing on ground level, from anywhere on the island, would see.

            Oh, cruel reality. Why dost thou not bend to mine will?

          • Scott, try Google Earth. You can do some amazing things with it, and you can see most of the world quite well. If you need help interpreting it, I’m your man! (G). BTW, I’ve looked at most of those areas myself, along with the Trinity site, some of the Nevada proving grounds, and Area 51 (?). Being in the satellite/long-range-reconnaissance business, I knew some of the things about those areas long before they became public knowledge. I had to sign a piece of paper that I wouldn’t divulge any secrets for 70 years, in 1991. Just 50 more years, and I can tell all! Not that anybody will be interested by then… 8^(

            • I’ve got G.E. on the box at home. It doesn’t like the mobo video card here on the work comp. I think it will be good for Alcatraz, because that’s less about what each building is than the tactical aspects of the topography. But Newport News is another matter. I need DETAILS dammit. Covered Modular Assembly Facility only gets me so far…lol. I’ll take a gander at it this evening in G.E. though.

            • Shoot – I had to sign that same paper when I left the military. I can’t remember, but I think it was ten or twenty years. ARG… by the time I can tell, I will probably have lost my memory. 😉 My grandfather who was a radar technician/repair in WWII would not talk about radar even in the 1980s …it was declassified by then.

            • Be careful or you will end up like my undergrad professor Dr. C who’d written a tell-all novel about the internal politics of my college. She was waiting for Dr. L., the last of the English Dragons (the term for a group of emeritae faculty), to die so that she could publish. Alas, Dr. C kicked the bucket, while Dr. L is over 100 and counting. I’d love to find that manuscript . . .

  12. We’re so used to actors and other entertainers working till they are 95 or so, like the late Ernest Borgnine, that I was shocked when three of my favorite actors, Peter O’Toole, Sean Connery and Gene Hackman, announced they were retiring. Leonard Cohen was talking about retiring, but something happened with the retirement fund, accusations against his manager.

  13. Obviously I’m in the minority here, but the concept of not wanting to retire, especially not wanting to retire because you won’t have anything to do, is incomprehensible to me. Now that being said I will probably never truly retire, because of the way I have chosen to live my life. Originally when I got out of high school my plan was to save and invest my money, and my goal was to be able to retire by 40. (not going to happen) Things changed, and around 25 I had managed to buy a piece of property and build a house on it, without going into debt. I have a little money invested, but only enough to live on for a couple years. Instead of continueing to work steady and save up money to retire on after I was older and probably stove-up, I changed my plan. Instead I work seasonal work and have time to do the things I want to now, when I am still physically able to. The downfall of that of course is that when I get old enough to not be able to physically do the same types of work, I won’t have a retirement fund avaliable to live off of, so I will have to find other ways to make a living. To me the tradeoff of being effectively semi-retired in my thirties is worth probably never being able to fully retire, but if I won the lottery (more likely if I ever bought a ticket) I wouldn’t continue to work. I might occasionally do things that earned money, but they would be something I wanted to do, when I wanted to do them, not work.

    I guess what I’m saying is I would like to retire, but don’t want to work hard enough all the time to make it a reality. (note social security never entered my calculations)

    • I also want to retire, but I think we may all be talking at cross-purposes about what retirement means. It doesn’t mean to stop doing anything; it means a change in what we do. My Dad is loving retirement, but he’s puttering in his workshop and building things and making parts for my aircraft engineer friends, something he never had enough time for as a busy corporate executive CPA type (though his retirement was gradual, he was kept on longer, then did consulting for the firm, took a lot of calls, and worked part time as an expert witness).

      As for my Mom, women never retire. They just might have some more time for the home care they had before.

      The people who don’t want to retire are already doing the things they want to do. Those of us who want to retire aren’t able to enough. A lot of corporate execs take up artwork or finally have time to read or pursue other hobbies. A lot of retired people do volunteer work, get more involved with their churches, stuff like that. Tremendous source of free and knowledgeable labor – as opposed to young no-nothing kids.

    • if I won the lottery (more likely if I ever bought a ticket)

      The requirement to buy a ticket is an unreasonable restriction on participation. The Liberal Party is all for tax cuts for people who don’t pay income taxes in the first place, and opposes such unreasonable restrictions on exercise of the Franchise as being a citizen, being alive or not being in two places at once. So why refuse a portion of the lottery pot merely because you did not buy a ticket?

  14. My husband and I are reaching that retirement age. We decided that we had to have what we call a soft income so we wouldn’t be reliant on Government checks, since they will be a pittance of what he earns yearly. So we have started three small businesses with his modest inheritance from his parents. We don’t want to be like they were, sitting about waiting to die, we want to build something to leave to our kids. My husband could never really retire, he would go mad if he had nothing to occupy his time. We have plans to travel more, and to have time to see our grandchildren more, but the rest of it is going to be spur of the moment. We are both so sick and tired of always having to live an regimented life. Work, family, home, cooking, work, church, work . . . . I am already retired, and have time to look after our business investments. He has five more years of the grind before he can retire with a good pension. We can hardly wait to be free of those shackles that hold us down to one place, doing one thing. Our soft income will support a good lifestyle and allow us freedom.

  15. Oh, and on the pre-19th century lifespans and retirement topic. I just finished reading a very useful book entitled “Ordinary Prussians,” about three hundred years of history on Stavenow, an estate north and west of Berlin. If you survived the 30 Years’ War, and the periodic famines that hit after crop failures (do NOT go to northern Europe in 1717. 1715-1716 had three consecutive crop failures), people tended to live into their 60s, with about 10% lasting into their 80s and 90s. Farmers planned on a retirement from farming, living within the household but turning over day-to-day operation of the property to a designated heir. Those who became indigent got some help from the parish, from neighbors, and from the local lord, who provided for them “of his grace.” Some laborers did not retire, working in various ways in their professions (keeping a smaller number of sheep, gardening and having a few dairy cattle rather than grain farming).

    If you are interested in how an estate functioned, and how it transitioned from feudal service to cash wages, I highly, highly recommend the book as a research resource. “Ordinary Prussians: Brandenburg Junkers and Villagers, 1500 – 1840” by William W. Hagen.

    • You know, this has been waved in my face several times — but I still refuse to believe it’s in any way representative. Look, first of all, we’re talking a limited area and stock, second well that’s (by definition) not the middle ages. There had been significant improvements in agriculture, etc starting around 1300. Third…Prussia was (relatively speaking) a well-to-do area. Again, I’ve heard this referenced, but when you go into bios — like Shakespeare being considered “very old” at 58… (in the middle of that period) it casts some doubt on the whole thing. For the upper classes, lifespans into the seventies weren’t out of the question, of course, but as I said, even in “the memory” of the village when I was growing up, 50 was time to prepare to pack it in and 60 was “very old.” And this was 20th century. Yes, it’s all changed in fifty years. The biggest difference? Clean drinking water. Second biggest difference? hygiene.

      • Dr. Hagen is very careful to point out that this is a study of one manor in one time period, in an area that lost only 20% of the population due to the 30 Years’ War. He was surprised by the life spans, especially considering the war and famines. No, it is not medieval, and if you could find equally good actuarial data for Berlin or Hamburg, say, you’d probably find lower lifespans. Of the nobility, there were (IIRC) 50 in the data set Hagen found, and about 3000 villagers. I mentioned the info just as one small data set and to tell folks about a useful reference, not to try and contradict your larger point about longevity and retirement.

        • No, I know. Sorry if I overreacted but in the Baen bar I had someone pull this on me once to “prove” that lifespans aren’t increasing, we just have this odd idea they are. (rolls eyes.)

          • No problem. I’m too used to having to defend already subdivided, split and quartered hairs myself. 🙂

          • Lifespans are not increasing. It is an illusion caused by years getting shorter.

            Alternatively, all lifespans, properly calculated, are of the same length. Just take the lifespan in days and divide by eternity.

          • Lifespans are not increasing, they are decreasing in the long term, it is only in the short term that they are increasing. If you accept Genesis as a reference, at one time 900 years was not an unreasonable life span.

            I now need to go resharpen my axe, I don’t think it is sharp enough to quarter that hair. 😉

            • Oh, boy, this way lies Chariots of the Gods territory. Please no?

              • Can we go to Skateboards of the Gods territory if we promise to wear elbow/knee pads? I expect we can eschew helmets as there seems scant risk of brain damage?

                I considered Surfboards of the Gods territory, but it’s all wet.

                • if you chew helmets they won’t be very safe. (I know, I know, but it’s the best I can do just now.)

                • knowing me, it would be tricycles of the gods…

                  • I had considered Segways of the Gods but couldn’t recall the product name. In the context of a literary (sorta) blog I think it might be better to go with Mopeds of the Gods. Vespas of the Gods? Trabants of the Gods?

                    (You can stop, Jim; that horse is dead.)

                    • Not Trabants. Not Trabants, Mrs. Bennet. (Pride and Prejudice A & E mini series reference. “No lace, no lace, Mrs. Bennet.”) We went to Portugal in 91 when Robert was born, and the side roads and the side of the highways were littered with the things. People had driven then out as soon as the wall went down, in case it went up again, and then left them when they broke down, by the side of the road.

                    • Trabants are the work of Nyarlathotep.

                  • Actually this is like Philip K. Dick on meth territory, that the Dark Ages never were and we lost like five hundred years.

      • A few decades ago (IIRC, this was about the same time Sagan produced Cosmos) Jonathan Miller produced a series on PBS called The Body In Question, examining the state of knowledge of human anatomy. After covering several millenia of advancing medical knowledge, Miller (a Cambridge educated physician http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Miller ) concluded the series by asserting that, extensive as our medical knowledge had become, the greater contribution to human health and lifespan had been made by plumbers than by doctors. Amazing what benefits accrue from flushing your effluvia instead of tossing it out the front window.

        Insert here Hoyt-inspired rant about diminishing population and its causing sewage systems to break down for lack of proper operating volume of wastes. Ere long we may have to ban lo-flo toilets as the cheaper alternative to completely overhauling our sewage systems. (Gov’t decide in favor of a cheaper alternative? You must be mad as a hatter at a tea party.)

        • RES, did you read the piece in the English-language version of Der Spiegel about Berlin and the low-flow commodes and shower heads?

          • “By the way, Kif. Your toilet is set on stun, not kill.”

          • If I did I have forgotten having done so, retainiing merely the nut of the matter. I have seen several such articles over the last few years, covering several of the world’s great (and diminishing population) cities. Apparently the discovery that pipes designed to handle Mega-gallons of flow tend to develop … problems … when the current drops into the Kilo-gallons is becoming alarmingly wide-spread.

            • Also sewer plants need a certain amount of fresh material or the bacteria that breaks down the sewage dies of starvation. A guy that worked at an out-of-the-way hydroelectric dam was telling me once, that it had its own small sewage treatment plant. During the holidays and on certian weekends almost nobody would be there, and the ‘material’ flowing into the sewage treatment plant would be to small to feed the bacteria, so at such times they would flush a bag of dog food to provide the bacteria with something to eat, preventing it from dieing off.

  16. Oh, and Sarah, I loved the bit about winning the lottery and being able to hire someone to take care of housework, paperwork, etc. so you could write more. That’s exactly what I’d do – that, and travel a bit, which seems to really kickstart the ol’ creative juices, and which I can’t do much of at the moment. Or at least not as much as I’d like to.

  17. My maternal grandfather died in his early thirties, maternal uncle in his early fifties, and my mother was 64. On the other side of the family, well my father is 89 now and still has his driver’s license (he is getting a bit scary to travel with…), both of my aunts who were chain smokers and drank a lot lived to their mid-eighties. Interesting to see what will happen, although I’m afraid I take more after mother’s side (weight – nobody in father’s side seemed to gain no matter how much or what they ate, I have problems with weight like half of mother’s family).

    If I happen to have some of my father’s genes when it comes to longevity I better work at this writing thing, I’m not really fit enough for the jobs I have been doing for the last 20 years anymore, even now.

    • Keep in mind that cause of death is as important a factor as age. Dying of Spanish Flu is not a genetic predisposition. Dying because you mouthed-off to the Nazi colonel might be.

      It is generally useful to examine life-expectancy at various milestones. For example, your life expectancy if you survived the first year of life might look rather different than that graphed from moment of delivery. Just so, life expectancy having reached thirty, sixty or eighty would likely produce a more realistic estimate of longevity. Looking at life expectancy for all Americans commingles too many variables to be a meaningful metric.

      • I know.

        I had a bad start too, though. Some sort of digestive problems when I was weaned, according to what I know I could not hold any foods down, and might have died except my mother managed to get me under the care of one of our country’s then leading pediatricians. Took three months in a hospital before my parents got me back. I remember mother telling that she had to use all white clothes when taking care of me for several weeks after that because otherwise I’d just cry, after having gotten used to the nurses. That was early 60’s, back then in cases like mine, and with children my age, parents were not allowed to visit. The general idea seemed to have been that complete separation would be less stressful than visits.

        The somewhat scary part is the modern ideas of how much our gut flora matters when it comes to our health. I had that thing as a child, and have had a whole lot of problems with all kinds of food sensitivities as an adult. Not to mention my tendency to gain weight oh so easily. I definitely seem to have problems there.

        • my grandmother lost her milk when my dad was 2 or 3 months old (she got pregnant with my aunt.) There was no formula. they fed him watered down cow’s milk, water from boiling rice and various fruit juices. He had horrible issues as you describe. He’s one of two siblings left alive and arguably by far the healthiest. (just saying. Don’t give up.) Ditto, the side of my family that lives longest is dad’s, which I resemble. I’m not as massive as the ancestresses who had their own zipcodes because I’m VERY careful. They lived late eighties. Mom’s side were small and thin and nervy and died in their sixties and seventies. So, weight gain is a modern obsession and doesn’t necessarily correlate as much as they’d have us think.

          • Body weight matters as a corollary of socio-economic position. Back when, being hefty indicated sufficient economic success that you were not subject to periodic reductions of caloric intake. It is evidence of the general wealth of our society that we have inverted the relationship so that being thin is now evidence of sufficient economic success that you can afford to partake of regular exercise and limit your body weight (it is no longer proof that you have to work with your body rather than your mind.)

            In either case we are talking about a form of gluttony.

          • Thanks for the encouragement.

            It’s bloody irritating though. Two years ago I had a small operation on my leg and was on crutches for over a month, then had this leaking hole on that leg for yet another month and because of that was pretty much confined inside – was winter, you do not want to go outside when the temperature is below freezing and you have enough interstitial fluid coming out that your sock and even trouser leg gets a wet spot in less than half an hour, no matter what kind of bandaging you use.

            So, no exercise. I tried to be careful with what I ate, and as far as I can tell the only differences with my normal eating were a couple of liters of ice cream per month (hey, I needed some consolation). Gained ten kilos (22 lbs) during those two months. And so far I have managed to lose only about two of those kilograms.

            • I was confined to bed for six months when pregnant with Robert. I didn’t feel like eating. In fact, I ate mostly watermelon (summer, south, hot.) I gained SIXTY pounds. Exercise seems to be huge driving factor for me. And those sixty pounds, after I gained another fifty and have lost them, are still with me.

              • Ouch.

                Same here when it comes to exercise. Right now I’m trying to get back into lifting weights. With my knees running is out of the question, and I’m scared even walking might become at least somewhat unpleasant during the next decade. Weight training might work.

                • My problem with exercise is a med – prednisone. I have been on it for over nine years. Being on that drug for so long, it does nasty things to the bones and muscles. UGH… thankfully I don’t have osteoporosis–

            • (I will hush, but… I lived with undiagnosed hypothyroidism for years, and I would not wish such on anyone else, and “unexplained weight gain” makes my thyroid antenna go wiggle. Tested for thyroid? Got numbers? (Cannot trust “normal” as there are labs and doctors who use old data.) I hush now. It is hard, to be a fanatic. >_> )

              • I’m waiting to move out of Springs to find doctors because… long story. But yeah, I have other symptoms too, like loss of hair AND loss of sense of smell.

                • Loss of hair is one of many symptoms of Type 2 diabetes. I’ve lost most of the hair off my arms and legs because of that. I haven’t had a sense of smell in thirty years, ever since we lived in an 18th Century British house that had mold in many, many, MANY places.

                  • I’ve been tested for type2 diabetes and am at regular intervals, since my mom has it.

                  • Loss of hair with Type II Diabetes? I’ve got two forearms, two cheeks and a chin what says it ain’t necessarily so.

                    • I’m borderline type II diabetes. Not much hair on legs or forearms, but I seem to be developing something of a mustache nowadays. 😀 Well, wax and tweezers can count as an aging woman’s best friends. I will probably have to start shaving once I get past menopause.

                    • There is this machine you can get on Amazon. It’s like a hundred little tweezers, automatic. It’s saved my life and sanity. You think you have problems? Try being a mediterranean woman of a certain age.

              • Oh, yeah, and we’ve decided you’re bunnicula. Sowwwwwy!

              • In my case hypothyroidism is possible, I usually test at that end of the normal range, a couple of times close enough that the doctor ordered extra tests. But as long as I do fit inside that ‘normal’, no matter how narrowly, that’s where it ends. Socialized medicine. Finnish health care can be excellent as long as you have something like a broken bone, or after you are very obviously sick. But most times you have to wait until you really are very obviously sick before you can get the tests that might show what exactly is wrong with you, at least if those tests are at all expensive.

  18. I retired about 10 years ago, not out of desire, but out of necessity. I’ve tried a half-dozen things to keep me busy, and writing seems to be the one that I’m best at, and most happy with.

    My family has a history of living longer than average. My maternal grandparents lived into their late 60’s, and both died in the 1960’s. One of my maternal great-grandparents died at 93, and another at 106. One of my mother’s sisters will be 100 in April. My fraternal grandfather died at 72 from pneumonia – after spending three weeks in a hospital with a .38 slug through his right lung. My fraternal grandmother lived to be 89. Both of my parents lived to be 80, and both died of major medical problems that are now far more easily treatable. With things that are currently being done in medical research, reaching 100 or more may be the average in thirty years. Changes will be absolutely necessary if there’s to be any way to deal with retirement.

  19. Whenever I hear discussion of “retirement”, I point to this guy:

    http://www.hershelmcgriff.com/ .

    84 — races stock cars. You figure it out. >:)

  20. Daddy’s law firm forces retirement upon senior partners — the younger partners came up with the idea fearing that otherwise they would never get a chance at becoming senior partners. Law has long been a place where you could just keep working at some level until you weren’t. (Either weren’t entirely or were eased out because you weren’t there mentally.)

    There is talk about second careers — but people in their seventies often find it hard to be hired. (Not just people in their seventies.)

    One problem we are going to face is that, through the miracle of modern medicine, we have more and more people living past functionality.

    • One problem we are going to face is that, through the miracle of modern medicine, we have more and more people living past functionality.

      I know plenty of people that have not lived until functionality yet.

  21. Pesonally I don’t see myself ever retiring either. I certainly intend to keep writing until I die. As far as the day job that pays the bills goes I don’t know if I will ever be able to retire from that either. If my hope and dream of being able to make a sustainable living from writing comes to fruition, I’d love to write full time. Or find a way to make a living doing other things I enjoy and find metally stimulating, like public speaking, hosting a radio show, or something else creative. I could see doing that up to the point of my death as long as I’m healthy enough to do them.