I’m busy working on my new book at the moment, on the new retirement. One of the core underpinnings of the changes in life stages, including retirement, is the 30 years that has been added to the life course in the last century, and the impact of this on the traditional life course.

Here’s how it goes:

The life course used to look like this, with a predictable trajectory up to a high point in midlife then a long slow decline through retirement to a wooden box in the local cemetery. Personal growth was not expected later in life and your world shrank year by year.

When it first became clear that more and more years were being added to the lifespan through the 20th century, the first idea was to add them to retirement (remember the push to early retirement, leisure communities and endless golf/bingo/cruises)? It was a clumsy idea, and makes a clumsy diagram:

Another way of looking at this is to track the major phases of public life – study, work, rest/retirement – and those in your private sphere. In the old days, you studied, then you worked, then you retired – it was a one-way linear progression. And in the rest of life you grew up, dated, married and had a family, aged and then died. All one way, no repeats or twists. It looked like this:

These days, though the major elements are much the same, it’s not as linear – we move back and forth through the phases of work and private life, mix them up, leave one out, delay another, revisit some…

Back to the first diagram, now it looks much more like this next one – where the potential for growth, adventure an achievement continues to rise until well into the 80s and maybe more (research clearly shows age 80 is the average peak for life happiness):

Much more fun, more possibilities and more flexibility to create a life that you actually want to live!

Joanna Maxwell

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