What is the right age to retire? Early enough to enjoy a few years’ of profligate grey pound spending (you can’t take it with you after all) but late enough to carry on working as long as you feel interested in and capable of doing your job? Retirement dreams tend to depend implicitly upon a generous financial provision. Retirement nightmares of cold, forgotten, neglected, impecunious elderly people are not what we picture for ourselves so the age at which we retire often depends on how effectively we have made our pension provision in the preceding years and decades. Somewhere between sixty and seventy, however, seems to be the aim of the majority of the population but there are a few notable exceptions.
Michael Owen announced his retirement from professional football yesterday at the age of thirty-three and today former England and Arsenal captain Faye White retired at thirty-five. At the other end of the scale, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger retired as Pope Benedict XVI last month at the age of eighty-five to step into a role ‘more appropriate for my age’, while the redoubtable Queen Elizabeth II has made it clear that she has no intention to handing the throne to her heir apparent Prince Charles even though she herself is a year older than the ex pope and her consort husband is ninety-one.
Of course professional footballers tend to have a career that both starts and finishes earlier in life. Owen was playing professional football in his teens while Pope Benedict XVI did not start his role until he was aged seventy-eight which was old, even by papal standards. His successor Pope Francis is a youthful seventy-six and just starting out on the demanding role of Leader of the Church of Rome.
There are few concerns for the twilight years of any of those mentioned: cash is rarely a problem for professional footballers and, even though he is the first pope to have stepped down for a very long time, a space has been found for the pope formerly known as Benedict XVI at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery where it is unlikely he will need to worry about utility bills.
Meanwhile, for those of us blessed without the capacity for supreme co-ordination or serene contemplation, there is the prospect of living on the proposed £144 a week state pension unless we have made other plans. Whatever George Osborne’s budget, it is unlikely that the desirability of a personal pension will be lessened and the reality is that workplace pension scheme membership is at a fifteen year low. And while it is not the job of government to advise on the detail of whether to invest in Isas, property, fine wines or gilts, it is their responsibility, together with the newly reformed financial services industry, to encourage individuals to invest in their retirement futures. It’s a tough message to get across in times of economic difficulty, but an important one nonetheless.