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Old Age and Decline: Some Philosophical Reflections

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The Four Ages of Man - Nicolas LancretThere’s an oft-repeated ‘fact’ thrown around in debates about retirement and old age. The details can vary but it’s something to the effect that when the pension entitlement age was set at 65 in the early part of the 20th century, very few people could expect to collect it, and those that did could only expect to collect for a few years (probably no more than 5). This was because life expectancy was so much lower back then. Hence setting pension entitlement at 65 was a relatively low cost gesture for the government. But what was low cost back then has turned into a major expenditure today, now that people are living so much longer and life expectancy has shot up. Whereas most people could only expect to live to their early 60s in the early 1900s, nowadays the majority can expect to live into their late 70s/early 80s. This places considerable strain on public finances and means more people are spending more of their lives in a ‘retired’ and ‘non-productive’ (from an economic/tax-paying perspective) state.Having done some digging, it turns out this fact is not quite true. While it is true that life expectancy was much lower back then, that was mainly due to high infant and early adult mortality (due to infectious disease and war). If you cleared those early-life hurdles, and made it all the way to 65, you could expect to live a good bit longer, upwards of 13 years in fact (more if you were a woman). That post-65 life expectancy has gone up since then, but by much less than how much life expectancy as a whole has gone up as whole. This doesn’t mean that costs are not increasing — the huge drop in early life mortality means a lot more people are making it to their late 60s. It also doesn’t detract from the fact that more and more people are entering this ‘retired’ phase of life.But what does it mean to enter that phase of life? Many of us, myself included, have a negative perception of ageing and retirement. We see ‘old age’ as a. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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