Thanks to Social Security, most of us grew up believing that our work lives would end at age 65, followed by many years of well-earned rest, leisure activities, and world travel, all funded by regular checks from Uncle Sam, former employers, and our own savings. Most of us are now adjusting that expectation. I, for one, figure I’ll never retire completely—and not just for financial reasons. As geriatrician Katherine Schlaerth pointed out last week in the Los Angeles Times, retiring is about the dumbest thing you can do. Her patients who stop working, she says, age rapidly, and their health and cognitive abilities go into steep decline. “Most people just plain do better, both intellectually and physically, when they continue to work,” Schlaerth says. “Use it or lose it.”
My father retired on a nice pension at 60, but I can’t say I ever envied him. He and my mom certainly enjoyed their freedom at times, with frequent trips and gatherings with longtime friends. But I usually found him sitting at the kitchen table, creating work for himself amid piles of paper—micromanaging his retirement accounts, inspecting his doctors’ bills. There was often a sad, wistful air about him; he never stopped missing his job and the pride he took in it. I have little doubt retirement shortened his life. What made it sadder still was that he accepted his gold watch only because his employer was pushing people his age out the door, to make room for younger, more energetic people with up-to-date skills. So, yes, most of us should keep working past 65, and we’ll probably need to. But here’s the rub: Will anyone think we’re worth keeping around?