Told To Be Old


Clearly there comes a day when a team from the government comes to your home or office and holds a meeting with you via a Powerpoint presentation, wherein they explain that you’ve been reclassified as an Old. They then reveal their plan for your future, which will involve becoming invisible, being ignored, sidelined and patronised.

The prospect of hitting 65 this year is frankly absurd. In the press this week, the brilliant Sheila Hancock talked about starring in the new version of ‘Harold & Maude’ onstage, pointing out that they finished rehearsals at 11:00pm and she had to be back in at nine the next morning, and as she’s 85 she’s a tad tired.

The psychological age and the pensionable age are both gently shifting back, but there’s a problem in the workplace; many friends are finding their high-flying careers being prematurely ended at around 50, not because they lack skills but because their companies now find them replaceable with less expensive, younger staff – of course they have to find ways around the employment laws, and do so with ruthless efficiency. The new staff are not exactly drawn from all walks of life, either; they’re middle and upper-middle class graduates supported by well-off parents.

In 1910 the life expectancy was 50, but the average retirement age was 74. In 2000 the first figure had risen to 73 and the second had dropped to 62. I retired from my day job of running company at 52, but am working a six-day week of, on average, 10 hours a day at a much lower salary – but I’m happier. One of my best friends, a very young-looking and very fit 51, has just been bumped out of his job after an American company took over and decided he was too old. Of course, it wasn’t phrased in that fashion.

Over the last 20 years, the average expected retirement period has risen from 14.8 years to 18.8 years for a 65 year old male, and from 18.5 years to 21.2 years for a 65 year old female. So, you have another twenty years in which to regret giving up work.

Because this is the other thing; you’ll be eased from public view at fifty and will also find it impossible to get another job at anything remotely like your old salary. I’m lucky in that I work for myself and continue as long as I see fit (or stay fit), but I have friends who now simply have nothing to do, no jobs on the horizon and no way of saving. The creative industry is particularly cruel; it rewards simply for being young.

We hear a lot about Millennials being unable to buy properties while the older generation selfishly hoards, but in my experience there are a great many who have been encouraged to save by governments only to find that their savings are now worthless and their pensions have gone. The culprit here is the lack of social mobility, worse in the UK now than in the late Victorian era. According to the Financial Times, race, mobility and class are barriers to any kind of C-class job, so that corporate careers continue to be provided for a perceived ‘officer class’.

BTW, the hands at the top of the page are a stock shot that gets run in every newspaper in the UK whenever there’s an article on ageing; it’s insulting, lazy and inaccurate. Below, the author as unemployable washed-up pensioner.

25 comments on “Told To Be Old”

  1. Amy says:

    Wow – that’s a harsh and frightening assessment of employment market. I was about to submit papers to my company to take voluntary redundancy at the age of forty four.

    I was thinking it won’t be that very difficult to get another position. But I’m in a well paid charity job, and maybe I should think again.

  2. Jo W says:

    Well said,Chris. I have two sons,one of whom got redundancy from his office last year at the age of 45. He got a job after six months,at a much reduced salary and only on a years contract,so he is currently looking around again. The other who’ll be fifty later this year,saw how things were going and went self employed a few years back and works on a consultancy basis. I worry how they’ll manage later on.
    Yes, even though they’re ‘grown up’ I worry, I’m their Mum- it’s my job!

  3. Brooke says:

    At a programmers’ meet up last week, there were many over 50 unemployed/laid off/made redundant mathematicians and computer engineers. Yet we complain about shortages.

  4. Peter Tromans says:

    I worked as an engineer for the same the trans-global mega-machine through good, bad and other times for over 20 years. When I was 47, we could no longer exist under the same roof and we had an amicable divorce. I guess that was the first time that I sort of retired. In fact, I drifted into consultancy and have had a great time doing that for the last 20 years, working mainly with a very good friend with complementary talents. I’ve tried to reduce the hours spent on paid work two or three times, but, so far, for various reasons, it hasn’t become real. May be this year, it will.

    Advice for others: paid work isn’t necessarily an employment contract. If you have some talent, some knowledge in how to do something, people will give you money for it, often more than they’d pay you as an employee. And, above all, you are free.

    It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was ‘one of our bright, young engineers’ and one of the youngest at a meeting, now I’m more likely to be one of the oldest. I don’t think people treat me any differently, certainly no worse. On a different level, I am troubled by the attitudes of wider society to older people. We recognise and condemn prejudices against many. However, over recent months, I’ve seen statements pass without comment on health care, pensions and social services, and driving licences though they reveal an appalling bigotry against anyone past 50, 60 or 70.

  5. Peter Tromans says:

    … oops! ‘you are free’ means you have your freedom. With reasonable luck, you are actually very expensive!

  6. Graham says:

    I’m fortunate that I can probably work for the company I’m with now until I retire, and they have a pension scheme in addition to the government’s pension. And I have to say, I’ll turn 50 this year but I think you look younger than I do!

  7. Ben Morris says:

    I think it also matters what your work involves. Last year, at 47 years old, I gave up my job of 27 years and went to University to study for a masters degree. I haven’t regretted a minute of it to the point that I wish I could afford more than one year of studying.

    I’m in a fortunate position that there were never enough people in my previous profession and my new knowledge allows me into a different role which will be complemented by my previous experience. Although I don’t want to use the phrase ‘transferrable skills’ I do think it’s important to have a plan B if the destiny of your working life is in the hands of others.

    On the other hand the destiny of my pensionable age is in the control of the government who keep extending it so I don’t have the last say in all of this. I dread the day when I am considered too old for the working environment, I think that knowledge is power but only in the correct environment.

    History shows that the cultures which excelled put experience and wisdom above youth, it’s just a shame that as a society we don’t learn from what we know.

  8. PHIL BABBS says:

    I retired last July at the age of 62 and was fortunate to be able to do so, although I think that many of my work colleagues, who were all considerably younger than me, were beginning to tire of me telling them that I could do and say what I wanted now I was in receipt of a free Oyster Card and Senior Travel card. I am sure that some of them had undergone a sense of humour removal. Anyhow for my next Birthday I shall treat myself to a walking stick so I can stand in shops shouting at people and waving my stick in the air!

  9. Brian Evans says:

    Why is it that we can’t get rid of Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, Presidents and Judges the minute they reach 50?

  10. Ian Luck says:

    I will be 55 this year, and have already received tons of junk mail from companies who want to ‘help’ me access my pension. They can get stuffed. The company I work for prefers people with experience, and are happy to let me stay as long as I like. I don’t feel, or think ‘old’ (although hobbling about with a stick after popping my left knee out on the ice last week came damn close). I just bought my nth pair of Doctor Martens today, not bloody carpet slippers, too. Ageism is insulting, although I did tell a bloke in town who called me ‘Granddad’ to fuck off, and it felt good.

  11. Debra Matheney says:

    I turn 65 in a few weeks and recently retired after 30 years in various mental health jobs, all stressful and all with highly dysfunctional agencies. While I do not miss work and especially the mind numbing bureaucracies and disturbing politics, I do miss the folks I supervised and the inherent routine of work. The unlimited freedom is both a blessing and a curse. But I simply could no longer support the institution for which I worked. Fortunately, I own my home and have a decent pension.
    Like Ian, I don’t “feel old” in spite of minor aches and pains. But I am sick of people asking me if I am going to travel. At the moment, I enjoy hearth and home and my cats and reading and cooking and the freedom to do just those things.

  12. Richard Burton says:

    That portrait’s very Anton Corbijn! My wife got made redundant last month, at nearly 50 for pretty much the reasons in your post. It’s definitely a thing, and seems to be very psychologically damaging.

  13. Steveb says:

    Reminds me of Peter Cook and the miners / judges sketch!

  14. Steveb says:

    PS for anyone who doesn’t know the punchline:
    The trouble with being a miner is, when you’re too old and sick and stupid, you have to go. Whereas the very opposite applies to being a judge.

  15. John DLC says:

    I think you’re rocking that black t-shirt pretty well Chris FWIW.

  16. Martin Tolley says:

    I put my papers in about 18 months ago. The university I worked for was preparing to up and move to a new paperless, car-free, officeless campus, and frankly, at the age of 62, I couldn’t be a***d with the upheaval. I was inundated with “advice” about all the things I could do, mostly trying to get me to do for free what I’d been pretty pitifully paid to do before. I’m fortunate to have a modest pension and no mortgage, and Mrs T still does her daily stint. I can only say that I don’t feel old (OK hips and eyes and things remind me of time passing, and very young ladies working in art galleries just seem to charge me concessionary entry without my asking) and I’ve found so much to do, and soooo many books to read, I now wonder how I ever managed to find the time to go to work.

  17. jeanette says:

    Just turned 60 a week ago. Retired from work through ill health I have Rheumatoid Arthritis (auto immune, not the “Oh I have that in my fingers”). Just returned from Gran Canaria, oh the joy to feel the heat of the sun in February. Thank you retirement.

    I agree with what you said about the stock shot.

  18. Adam says:

    This definitely strikes a chord with me. I’m late 40s, and have worked in Finance for large corporations all my career. I’m just hoping to navigate my way through endless restructuring for a couple more years, then two fingers to it all! I then hope to do something closer to my heart. I don’t know what constitutes ‘old’ – I was chatting to some members of Fairport Convention the other week, who still love writing and gigging in their late 60s/early 70s. Can’t say many chartered accountants still love their job at that age…

  19. Denise Treadwell says:

    Not sure retirement is an option. Its a new concept isn’t it? Not sure it’s healthy to retire! Just celebrated my 63rd Birthday. Husband works still at 67, doesn’t plan to retire any time soon. I have seen those who have retired early have had to take another job. Self employed is better unless the skills you possess can’t be replaced easily by an employer .

  20. Eliz Amber says:

    It’s the last demographic that it’s still acceptable to demonise, patronise and discriminate against. Frankly, my senior friends exhaust me. (My book club just disbanded because the damned seniors in the group are too busy.)

    This is one of the things I love about Bryant and May – representation is important.

  21. Jan says:

    There’s another issue running alongside all these people being replaced as an expensive resource their 50s. Don’t get me wrong Chris I see the point. These people are justifiably upset and annoyed at losing about a decades worth of good income long before they thought it would happen. Their Life plans being thrown well out of sync.

    But the other side of this particular coin concerns people engaged in more physical occupations who have been just as unexpectedly been informed their careers will go on perhaps 5 or 6 years longer than they expected! Any volunteers to be a 67 or 68 year old scaffolder, bricky, gardener or care worker?

    See it’s not just the disgruntled “thinkers” in shiny bottom jobs who are hacked off. It’s people whose joints, backs, arthritic fingers and hips who have just watched the finishing line (getting their pensions) being moved backwards. These people are maybe more reliant on state pension than bigger earners.

    I can remember being involved in a discussion @ work on an early shift – we were discussing retirement. I am semi retired part timer now. Others at various stages in their working lives were discussing the ages they would leave. Eventually Amy, an unqualified HCA -like myself -but 23 years old announced she would be 71 b4 she could retire. Honestly this can be a physical job you could not DO it at 71. Not full time! The sisters and senior staffs encouraged her to qualify and she is training now. Thank goodness.

    There was a big reaction to this post Denise Treadwell’s l reaction was interesting, retirement is a concept, sure it is. But it’s rather more than that to someone who has done tough physical work outdoors and is now in their mid or late sixties.
    Don’t just forget the massive volunteering section amongst older people officially in the ‘retired’ bracket. Some will feel this a sector best ignored as the were being paid for similar work. Others will not agree.

    Maybe lots of rethinking is now required. So much work will soon simply disappear not purely assembly line jobs but ALL sorts of work. We need to redefine our lives.

  22. Jan says:

    Sorry re the two beens in paragraph 2!

  23. Bill says:

    Jaysus, the world.

  24. Helen Martin says:

    A woman of my acquaintance completed her degree in archaeology with a minor in botany. If you don’t get into a stream, taken on someone’s project, right away you’d better find something else. She turned to her botany minor and has worked at a number of jobs in garden centres, for municipal gardening learning centres and for the last twenty years at a number of colleges as a sessional lecturer. She has also given basic training courses in both the men’s and women’s prisons in landscape gardening. She has worked hard all her life for lower pay than she should have had to, often unloading trucks of garden supplies and has only her government pension at the end. She has also had no benefits at any of her jobs. She is well into her fifties and I wonder what she will have when her misaligned spine and uneven legs finally rebel.
    I’ve just loaned her a book in which the secondary plot line is a rebellion by sessional lecturers.

  25. John Griffin says:

    The truly depressing thing is to join the local University of the Third Age (at 66) and realise almost all the members are playing stereotyped ‘old’ roles and they do visits to stately homes, illustrated talks and folk dancing…….my preferred activities include orienteering, proper cycling, politics and sex. Should’ve been an MP I suppose…..

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