8 September 2010
The unrest in France over plans to raise the retirement age in 2018 to 62 contrast sharply with higher retirement ages in other countries and corresponding moves to increase retirement ages in the future.
What the protests ignore is the real importance of continuing to be active as we age. There are specific problems people face when they leave the workforce, which can include lessened physical activity and decreased cognitive functioning. While we are still learning about mental decline, the brain does like to keep busy. With retirement can come dislocation from work-based social networks, a feeling of being tossed out of meaningful work, and general uselessness. Of course some jobs just get harder to do as we age (and that requires thinking about the nature of work, rather than the age of the worker). That means we need to think of transition to other forms of activity such as part-time employment (France has such restrictive regulations that even the employment agencies won’t register a person over 61), further education and even self-employment.
Work is not just about labour (and its exploitation or not depending on your political perspective). We know more that working, the activity of being productive, is good for our mental health. One could interpret the protests in France as efforts to ensure that people enjoy declining health as they age, denial of opportunities to continue to be economically active and productive.
France is one a clutch of countries that has a weak entrepreneurial and innovation culture which denies the broader society the fruits and benefits of creativity later in life. These countries will be better off ensuring that people continue to lead productive lives, and with some luck enjoy healthy ageing.EuroSante