Maybe we should be working longer

Sep. 15, 2011 at 7:28 AM ET

We know the Great Recession has prompted some people to delay retirement because they can no longer afford it, even as it has forced others into an early retirement.

The nation’s budget crunch also has raised the question of whether we need to increase the age at which people can start collecting full Social Security benefits. The idea is that would make up for the fact that people are living longer and Social Security is becoming harder to pay for.

Unless you’re Warren Buffett, it’s probably not thrilling to consider the possibility of spending your golden years at the office instead of the beach. But a commentary this week from the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute is raising an interesting question: Do we really deserve all those years of retirement?

The article's author, Christopher Conover, notes Americans are now spending a far bigger chunk of their lives in retirement than ever before, and questions whether that’s an entitlement we can still afford.

In 1900, he notes, a 20-year-old man could expect to work for 90 percent of his remaining life. In 2004, he could expect to work 65 percent of his remaining life.

Conover has no clear answer. Working longer may be better for financing things like Social Security, but it also could come at a cost to quality of life.

Readers, what do you think? Now that we live longer, must we also work longer? Or should we be able to have a society in which we can benefit from our longer lifespan with a longer period of leisure?


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