A hand writing complex formulas on a chalk board.


The Mathematics of Longevity

Thanks to modern medicine, Americans’ longevity increased by 30 years during the 20th Century. During that time, the retirement age plunged, a byproduct primarily of a prosperous post-World War II economy.

An urgent need to squeeze more retirement money out of fewer years of work is now bearing down on the baby boom generation. But we haven’t adapted our lives or plans to fill in that yawning gap. Retirement today can last 20, even 30 years. The challenge of funding retirement is greatest for women, who earn less than men and live longer.

Steve Sass, my colleague at the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College, encourages people to think about it this way and proposes a solution. For someone who works 40 years, retirement could last 20 years. That’s a 2-to-1 ratio of work-to-retirement years – with that ratio, it’s tough to make the financials work. It’s even harder if one’s retirement lifestyle will be based on those larger, late-career paychecks.

For those who have a job, consider what happens by adding five years of work. The work-to-retirement ratio is a “more manageable” 3-to-1, said Sass, who is co-author, with CRR Director Alicia Munnell, of “Working Longer: The Solution to the Retirement Income Challenge.”

That’s not all. Instead of retiring at age 62, an additional five years of work results in 44 percent more in your monthly Social Security check.

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