Pensions and Aging News

World Politics Review publishes an article by The Terry Group’s Richard Jackson

June 2023

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An article in World Politics Review by The Terry Group’s Richard Jackson, “The ‘Golden Age’ of Retirement is Over,” revisits and expands on themes discussed in “Rethinking Retirement in an Aging America,” and issue brief in The Terry Group and Global Aging Institute’s (GAI) jointly published Critical Issues series.

The ‘Golden Age’ of Retirement is Over

Richard Jackson
June 1, 2023

After months of strikes and protests that threatened to paralyze France’s economy and topple the government, French President Emmanuel Macron passed a pension reform this past April that raises the retirement age by two years, from 62 to 64. Doing so required bypassing parliament, surviving two no-confidence votes and overcoming a constitutional challenge. The protests are ongoing, now fueled not just by opposition to the increase in the retirement age, but also by outrage at the way it was achieved. However, the reform is now law, and the retirement age will be raised incrementally until it reaches 64 in 2030.

Though Macron’s methods strained France’s democratic processes, his pension reform was fiscally and economically necessary. Across developed countries, aging populations and slowing economic growth are rendering today’s retirement institutions unsustainable. Many countries, from Sweden to South Korea, have already been compelled to make large cuts in government retirement provision. France, where early retirement ages and generous pensions are considered cornerstones of the country’s social contract, long put off the day of reckoning. Despite the predictable backlash—70 percent of the French public opposed the reform—Macron decided it could be put off no longer.

Working longer as societies age is both natural and necessary: It is natural because life spans and health spans have risen dramatically since today’s retirement institutions were first put in place, and it is necessary because those institutions are no longer affordable. Many people wish that it weren’t so—raising the retirement age is unpopular in most countries, not only in France. But wishful thinking cannot change demographic and economic reality. France’s pension system is already among Europe’s most expensive, and its cost will continue to grow as the country’s population ages. Working longer is an important part of the solution.

The need to extend working lives, however, does not mean that everyone should be required to work longer. Some workers will always need to retire early because they are in poor health or have physically demanding jobs, and governments should ensure that policies are in place to protect them. What it does mean is that what future generations may look back on as the “golden age” of retirement is now coming to an end—not just in France, but across developed countries.