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Is this the end of retirement as we know it?

Retirement unhappiness is a well-documented problem. Silver, of the University of Toronto at Scarborough, says retirement can be an “incredibly unsatisfying experience” for those whose personal and professional identities are intertwined. She suggests that the pandemic has offered many people a glimpse into retirement – ​​being with your partner all day, or alone all day, without the traditional work structures – and that some people who would have traditionally retired have now realized that the lifestyle did not sit well with them.

Plus, as flexible working practices become more and more the norm, it’s become much easier to continue working in retirement, as Annie Llewellyn discovered. She retired 10 years ago after a career as a university professor. “The first year, I really liked it,” she says. “But then I realized I didn’t have enough money to really support myself.” So she took up freelance work, like marking papers and giving talks. “Now I really enjoy the flexibility of having retirement income plus a job,” says Llewellyn, who lives between Italy and a shared house in Wales.

Since the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of more flexible work practices, Llewellyn has found it much easier to maintain her retirement-free lifestyle. “Coronavirus has changed the world of working from home,” she says. “I’m not working full time by any means, I wouldn’t want to, but I think it’s a new stage in life.”

A natural evolution?

If current concerns about the cost of living ease, some older workers may no longer feel the need to be employed after retirement. But the general trends – we are living and working longer, and many of us are not saving enough pension funds – suggest that “retirement”, for many, will include work in one form or another.

The shift to flexible working, however, could benefit both today’s retirees and lamented young workers like the generations who will never be able to afford to retire. Previously, the wealth gap between baby boomers and future generations might have meant that many people worked at their desks well into their 70s.

But flexible working offers a new option – a different take on the seaside retirement fantasy. Last week Llewellyn took a weekend trip to Corfu with a friend. “I worked a few hours, but I also swam,” she says.

This flexible version of retirement will not be available to everyone, but it is an indicator of how the concept itself can and should evolve. “I think it’s really important to recognize that retirement is just a phase that’s been made up, it’s not a natural progression or an essential stage in life,” Silver says. “I think now a lot more people will wonder what this means and if this is really a life goal for everyone.”

Anthony uses his middle name so that his employer cannot be traced

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