Friday, October 17, 2008

Retirement Expectations in Britain: Long Walks, Watching the Telly

While evidence piles up that American Baby Boomers are contemplating a future of "unretirement," in which work continues to play a major role in their lives, the sea-change in thinking about retirement is far from universal in global Boomerdom.

Speaking about Boomers in Great Britain, Dr. Rebecca Leach, of Keele University and King's College, London, says there is limited evidence that "first wave boomers are developing new third-age lifestyles."

Leach led an ambitious study that focuses mainly on anticipated in lifestyles and consumption patterns. From what I can tell from the best summary of the report I could find, in, the study did not ask whether British Boomers plan to defer retirement or work longer, as U.S. Boomers expect to do. But it appears to be an unstated assumption that no such reappraisal is going on.

Like their American counterparts, British Boomers told researchers they feel younger than their actual age, and they identify with young people more than their elders. But the main finding of the study is how utterly conventional their retirement aspirations are by the standards of previous generations. States the PhysOrg article:

Most have fairly modest aspirations, hoping at best to maintain current lifestyles and activities provided health and finances permit them to do so. The range of lifestyles is greater than would have been the case with previous generations but there is little evidence of 'alternative' models of consumption.

While some plan substantial projects, particularly in relation to travel or using second homes, most people's ideas for spending time after retirement retain a traditional pattern – watching television and films, playing records or going for long walks.

European societies are facing the same "age wave" challenges as the U.S., particularly how to finance expensive medical and retirement benefits for the Baby Boomer cohort. Indeed, the birth dearth in many European countries will create an even greater imbalance between workers and retirees. A cultural shift in which millions of Boomers voluntarily defer retirement could offer post-industrial societies a way out of the dilemma. Such a shift appears to be taking place in the U.S. We'll keep our eyes peeled for evidence, or lack of it, in other countries.

(For what it's worth, Britain's most famous Baby Boomer, Prince Charles, appears to be an exception to the norm. At 60 years of age, he's still waiting to be king. It looks like a working retirement for him!)

Update: Here is an even better summary of the study.

(Photo credit Prince Charles:

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