The expectation of an increasingly longer life transforms old age. The academic world investigates how we will use those years and if we can afford to be more long-lived.
Two centuries ago, the age of 40 was rare. Those who achieved it were considered little less than beings blessed by the gods. But, thanks to medical and social advances, life expectancy began to increase at a considerable pace at the end of the 19th century. Now, living up to 80 is usual. And everything suggests that doing it until 100 will be, not very much, quite normal. This expectation of a long life, shared by more and more people, is celebrated by science as an achievement in the battle of humanity against death. Now, how to live these new years? And can we afford to be more long-lived?
In the academic world these questions are studied trying to predict how old age will be in half a century and how to stop the increase in inequalities and loneliness, two evils especially associated with this age. An extreme case is Japan -provided it is the country with the largest number of elderly people followed by Spain-, where the press has recently reported cases of older people who commit small crimes, such as shoplifting, to spend a season in prison. There, they say, they feel more cared for, where they are or feel alone, or they do not get the money.
Leaving aside this radical Japanese option, if we live more years in reasonable health conditions, can that long stage of old age become a project by itself? The philosopher Aurelio Arteta raises this question in his essay A final account, new notebook of old age (Taurus, 2018): "Just as the young and the mature tend to mark in advance some goals and means, some goals and their course towards they, should not the wise old man do something similar while he can, and even more so if those goals and goals are by definition more irrevocable than those traveled by the previous ages? " In an e-mail, Arteta adds: "I just imagine that, in a growing number, individuals will turn their prolonged old age into a time of benefit for themselves and not so much of painful waiting for death." Life gets longer and you have to think about what to do.
If we live longer, can that long stage of old age become a project by itself?
It is said that if the twentieth century was the redistribution of income, the XXI will be the redistribution of work: the day could be reduced during the upbringing of children, to recover those hours in the future, or work four days to the week and postpone retirement. Work life may start later and extend to 75 years, instead of the current 65. Then, when it is time to retire, the system could be more flexible: work part-time or self-employment (reducing the amount of the pension temporarily). Of course, all this depends on whether the individual in question is lucky enough to be able to decide when and how to work.
Beyond the labor issue, longevity can lead to other social changes. For example, that the idea of having several marital lives be generalized (in Spain, marriages among people over 60 have multiplied by five in four decades, according to the INE). The maximum age for a mortgage of 75 to 85 years could also be extended.
The bottom line is what to do with those 20 to 30 years of life that now often follow retirement. As the writer and Literature Nobel Svetlana Alexievich has warned, "ideas that cover this new period are lacking". There is no instruction manual, nor a consolidated philosophy about it. Having more free time to do everything that work did not allow is one of the positive things that come to mind. Travel, read, take care of the grandchildren, organize to ask for improvements in their living conditions ...
The recent demonstrations in Spain to claim decent pensions are a sign of the will of the elders to influence. Traditionally considered a loyal pool of votes for the dominant parties, the elders demand more. "This age group was generally unlikely to change. I participated less in him. This has begun to break, "explains Jesús Rivera Navarro, a professor at the University of Salamanca and an expert in the sociology of ageing.
57% of employees, according to a global survey, are working after retirement
Not only millennials are different, their grandparents are also different. "The generations that come are very different, they have lived very different things," he adds. They contributed to the modernization and Europeanization of Spain. They lived the greatest leap and economic progress in the history of the country. In his youth some went to concerts of the Rolling Stones (many still do) and starred in the Transition. They were able to study more than their parents and they traveled more, they gave their children many more comforts. It is probably the best prepared retirement generation. And it begins to be clear that they are not willing to give up the political commitment that marked their youth.
Some participated in the protest movement that began to be forged seven years ago with the 15-M. Interestingly, two of the inspirers of this movement were nonagenarians: Stéphane Hessel, author of the political pamphlet Indignaos !, and the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. "I think the elders have come to the streets to stay and that their votes, like that of women, will influence the future with greater intensity than in the past, overflowing the classic ideas of right and left," reflects the psychologist Ramón Bayés , Professor Emeritus of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and author of The Emotional Clock. On time and life (Plataforma Actual, 2018).
In reality it is the very concept of age that changes. Being older will not be the same, but neither will be young. Will there be more and more things that are more typical of youth at older ages? "The duration of a life is redistributed: we are longer young, more time adults and, in the same way, we start to be old later and for longer," says Antonio Abellán, professor of the Research Group on Aging of the CSIC
"Delaying retirement age has a demographic logic," he concludes. The expert places the end of adulthood in Spain in the 72 years, when a person is left, statistically, 15 years of life. "However, the Spaniards are, together with the Poles, the Europeans who dream of retiring as soon as possible. They want to retire, but then they do not know what to do. I suppose it has to do with a work system that exhausts us, bores us, "he says.
Keep working, perhaps at another pace or something else, would be an option. According to a study by the Dutch firm Aegon, dedicated to life and pension insurance, 57% of workers surveyed around the world are working after retirement, either part-time or on their own. Your reasons: keep your brain in shape, secure an income or because they like what they do. But not everyone is equal to the 80. "From the cognitive point of view, at equal age, the elderly are less similar to each other than the young, and, therefore, whenever possible, pensions on demand They should replace the fixed menu retirement, "says Bayés.
If life continues to last, the ability to work should be extended, says Isabel Ortiz, Director of Social Protection of the International Labor Organization (ILO). "But the problem is that there are enough jobs, because our economic policy, determined by short-term austerity policies, does not generate employment. Good aging depends on people having adequate pensions, "he says. "However, many pension reforms are taking place under this perspective that prioritizes tax savings and not the amount of pensions." In its World Report on Social Protection 2017-2019, the ILO warns that poverty in old age is growing in Europe and that unless the recent reforms are corrected, 19 European countries will see their pensions fall in the coming decades, being the most pronounced falls in Spain, Portugal and Poland.
To think about having a public pension in 30 years ... is it a chimera? "Many of the warnings that are made about the danger of pensions are alarmist; public systems were designed to adjust constantly to new realities; if these small adjustments are made according to labor standards, they can guarantee decent pensions and future sustainability, "says Ortiz.
Citizens who are being born at this moment may see with total naturalness - by their own decision or because they have no other choice - to work up to 75 years and live to 100. But how will the public treasury manage to absorb this change? In the 1950s, when most of the modern Social Security systems were designed, there were 205 million people in the world over 60 years old. That figure will multiply by 10, to 2,100 million, in 2050. Spending on pensions and health will go from 16% of GDP in the rich world to 25% at the end of the 21st century, according to the IMF. The care of the elderly will entail a greater outlay each time. Meanwhile, birth rates fall in rich countries and working conditions are increasingly precarious.
Low salaries, temporary employment and an increase in the number of self-employed workers, who are often forced to contribute less, make it difficult to obtain these adequate and sustainable pensions, according to Marina Monaco, adviser to the European Trade Union Confederation. "Like it or not, we will live longer and, supposedly, we will have to work more. But the decision of how long to work must come from the dialogue between companies and workers. For some it will be difficult because they perform physically hard work, "he says. Nor can it be overlooked that many are expelled from the labor market before the age of retirement: unemployment grows among those over 50 and it is more difficult for them to find a job. If you can not work until you're 65, what's the point of talking about the 75?
Monaco believes that, in the first place, one should think about how to work better and more continuously, and also bear in mind that, in order to compensate for the drop in the birth rate, it will be necessary to employ more immigrants.
And it is that the complex issue of pensions joins the fact that, in reality, it is unknown how the world of work will be in the future. The technological revolution implies, for example, the use of more robots. Bill Gates has proposed taxing the owners of those smart machines for the jobs they destroy. To ensure a minimum income, other experts propose the creation of a universal basic income. Initiatives in this direction have been launched in some places, such as Finland, Utrecht (Holland) and the Basque Country. "Well-designed basic income is a feasible initiative," says Ignacio Zubiri, Professor of Public Finance at the University of the Basque Country. Regarding pensions, the economist advises, among other measures, "to begin to progressively delay retirement at 67 years for all, finance pensions also with taxes and increase contributions."
In any case, the image of the elderly will have to change. "We must reconsider the hackneyed vision of old age and, above all, leave as soon as possible to see the elderly as a population necessarily passive, dependent and parasitic on the public treasury," reflects Pedro Olalla in an essay published in May, De senectute política. Letter without answer to Cicero (Cliff), a defense of good aging. It is about vindicating the idea, already defended by Cicero in his treatise on aging, that old age can be something positive and not a stage of weakness.
The panorama that is coming is uncertain. There is no doubt that the reflections on aging and how to live it are increasingly necessary. The generations of future elders have the role of conquering that new time that medicine has won for them, an unknown land. Because, as the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes said, there is something worse than living a life "lonely, poor, mean, coarse and brief": to live a lonely, poor, mean, coarse and ... long life.