The generation now moving into retirement is the generation that lived through the summer of love in 1967, the psychedelic phenomenon of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the emergence of the ‘Madchester’ club scene in the late 1980s. Perhaps they were always going to ‘do’ retirement differently.
Not all of them, of course, but in some numbers. They are also the richest generation ever to have retired, benefitting from good workplace pension provision, often defined benefit, and radical increases in residential property values. This gives them financial security, which, combined with increased longevity and better health, gives them choices the generations before them did not have or, perhaps, did not choose to imagine or use.
This retiree generation shows every sign, in some cases, of thinking laterally about how they want their lives to be, and armchairs and slippers are nowhere to be seen. Fit, active and well-off, their lives are very different to their own parents and often, will be better, and different to, their own children.
Snowbirds and silver surfers
I first started noticing this a few years ago surfing in Cornwall. I’m not very good at it, but having caught a wave, I nearly collided, as you sometimes do, with another surfer, much more skilled than I. Having ridden in, I went to apologise. He was clearly in his 70s. We fell to conversation walking up the beach. He had always loved the sea and when he retired, took surfing lessons. He and his wife now spend entire summers in their camper van touring the beaches of South-West England. Their children were long since grown up, he explained, so now they could do exactly what they wanted, when they wanted.
In Spain in February, I spotted a considerable group of mobile homes parked near the beach, with numerous nationalities clearly represented. These are ‘snowbirds’, a phenomenon also common in the US. With the arrival of bad weather in Northern Europe, they head south for months at a time, living on the road – a silver road trip, if you like. One couple I spoke to rent out their small flat in Amsterdam on Airbnb, which pays for their food and petrol. Another were towing a small car they used to tour an area they liked once they had secured a parking spot for the van.
It is not just about mobile homes, of course. Retirees are choosing to move abroad lock, stock and barrel. Low continental house prices can make selling up in Northern Europe and moving to the Mediterranean look like a smart move. More than 1 million people from this country are now permanently resident in Spain, for example. Some have kept a bolt hole in the UK that they rent out, others have taken the whole plunge and cut their ties. The diet of olive oil, fresh vegetables, fish and red wine has been shown to prolong healthy life, so such a move is about more than just money.
Away from the property, retirees are choosing to learn new skills such as painting, start new businesses they can work flexibly, even choosing new life partners for their later years. Yet others are doing things such as taking up motorcycling.
For those with the health, and the wealth, retirement is better, more exciting, and varied than for any generation before it. For this generation of retirees, retirement truly is golden and there is much to celebrate about it. However, it is uneven. For those in poor health and with little wealth, the outlook is nowhere near so rosy.