Retirement can be a period of relaxation and reflection after a lifetime of hard work. Or it can be the beginning of an entirely new life, lasting for twenty or thirty years. How you aspire to fill your retirement years depends at least to some degree on how many years you will have. In planning for retirement, you may be tempted to ask, How long will my retirement last?
In many ways, this may be just idle speculation; no one can predict the future. If you wish to begin pursuing an advanced degree in law or medicine at the age of 62, there’s no reason not to, even if your dreams are cut short by failing health. Don’t dwell on how much longer you have; focus rather on how you wish to spend your time in the near term and mid-term, and ensure that you have adequate resources to pursue the retirement dreams you do have.
In 2007, the average life expectancy for Americans aged 65 was an additional 18.6 years (nearly 20 years for women, closer to 17 years for men). Figures are similar for most European countries and Japan. So if you play by averages, your retirement beginning at age 65 will last 18 to 20 years.
There are two broad areas of concern relating to this rough estimate. First, you must ensure that you have enough savings, or income, to last throughout your retirement years. At age 65, figuring for an additional 20 years should be just a beginning; you should probably have enough to last 30 years. Retirement income can come from some combination of Social Security income, any pension income, income from retirement savings or a retirement account such as a 401(k), or other sources; you can even work in your retirement! But don’t cut yourself short. If you have defined aspirations for your retirement, ensure that you can pay for them, and that will take some planning.
Second, ensure that you maintain your health. If, at the age of 65, actuarial tables project that you will die at the age of 84, that’s no reason to start planning your funeral. Get plenty of exercise, keep a healthy diet, cut out bad habits, and adopt good habits. If you smoke cigarettes, stop. Most people would rather live longer, provided they can maintain their quality of life. Taking good care of yourself will improve your odds of living longer, and of being in better shape so you can enjoy it.
Don’t neglect your mental health. Aging retirees tend to fall into depression, particularly as their physical health inevitably begins to slip. Don’t isolate yourself; keep up an active social life, maintain your routines to the degree possible, and continue to engage in activities that make you happy. And if nothing seems to help you improve your frame of mind, seek professional help. Clinical depression is treatable.
If you’re in decent financial shape and in good physical and mental health, you will have the opportunity to live out your retirement in a rewarding and fulfilling way. It’s likely that you’ll be physically and mentally active until at least the age of 80; many retirees are fortunate enough to go on much longer. So if you have a burning passion to pursue an advanced degree at the age of 65, don’t let your age stop you — you’ll likely have plenty of time!