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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

October 2011 

By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

An exciting new column in Laterlife!  Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis will go behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group. Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this new addition every month



AmortalityAmortality: The pleasures and perils of living agelessly. By Catherine Mayer

In this new age of age confusion, one phenomenon blurs definitions of age more than any other: the significant – and burgeoning – numbers of people who are now living agelessly. To describe this phenomenon, Catherine Mayer has coined a new term – amortality. This is not to be confused with immortality, a totally different pursuit.

In her timely and entertaining book, Mayer writes that amortality is “the product of the world many of us now inhabit, shorn of landmarks that might provide guidelines for what is expected of us as the years pass. Youth used to be our last hurrah before the onset of maturity and eventual dotage, each milestone – childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, retirement, golden years, and decline – benchmarked against a series of culturally determined ideals. But as our life spans have lengthened, the ages of man have started to elide. “

Amortals rarely ask themselves if their behaviour is age appropriate because the concept has little meaning for them. They don’t structure their lives around the inevitability of decline and death because they prefer to ignore it. They continue to chase aspirations, covet new products, marry, divorce, spawn, learn, work, and assume all options are open, from youth into old age.

Mayer’s observations are not just headline grabbing ideas. The London Bureau Chief for TIME magazine, she backs up her anatomy of this new species with extensive academic, sociological and economic research. Though the research is thorough, it doesn’t stop you in your tracks. The book is witty and absorbing, replete with vivid case studies of the pleasures and perils of living agelessly. We visit the amortals at home, in love, exploring religions or their psyches, in the workplace and the marketplace.

Sounds great. But what this elision of the ages of man means is that the premises on which our governments legislate are outdated. Our economies are based on data that no longer applies. There is a profound disconnect between how we imagine life and how it actually unfolds.

Are you an amortal? Much publicised examples include well known celebrities like publisher Hugh Hefner and entrepreneur Richard Branson. Branson has never considered himself too young for any challenge. He now shows no sign of considering himself too old. Last year, despite an overfilled schedule that saw him training in 23 different cities, he completed the London marathon just ahead of his 60th birthday.

An amortal of even greater vintage includes Hugh Hefner. At age 84 Hefner tweeted news of his engagement to a 24-year-old Playmate. She said “A lot of people talk about the age difference between Hef and I, but I don’t see the age difference at all. If anything I feel like I’m the adult and Hef’s the kid.” Sadly, the subsequent marriage failed after just four months.

I like what amortal Baroness Shirley Williams says.” If you give up what you most care about, you start dying. It doesn’t matter what age.” I think that’s more doable for me.

To be an amortal you don’t have to be an amortal to the max. Take the test at the back of Mayer’s book. Even if you discover you have only a few of the amortal inclinations, you will be well on your way to enjoying the rest of your life.



Not the retiring kind: more older women than ever are becoming entrepreneurs

According to figures from Barclays, older entrepreneurs are responsible for more startups than they were 10 years ago and account for 15% of all new businesses in England and Wales. And life experience does seem to give them an edge: companies started by older people have a 70% chance of surviving the crucial first five years, compared with only 28% for younger people.

Although there are still more older men than women starting businesses, that is starting to change. It’s a change that the director of Enterprising Women has noticed. “Traditionally, the age when women started up businesses was 30 to 45, but when we started running courses for female entrepreneurs in 2006, we saw an even split between younger and older women,” she says. “The oldest woman we have supported was 72 years old.”

Children leaving home, mortgages being paid off and redundancy payments or pensions to invest all give older women the means to match the confidence that often comes with age. Career women too are starting businesses in later life. A professor of medical sciences after years closeted away in laboratories, universities and libraries, set up her very first business: the marketing of her new invention, a blood test that predicts an individual’s genetic predisposition to cancer.

The professor is fortunate. It is estimated that half of the older women are setting up businesses out of financial necessity. “If you lose your job after the age of 50,” says a senior lecturer at the Centre for Micro-Enterprise, “you a have a one in ten chance of getting another. Living on £66 a week Jobseeker’s Allowance plus rent isn’t a happy place to be – and there are lots of years between 50ish and 66, when you can start to claim your state pension. Older women who set up their own businesses are often those to whom life has dealt a serious blow.”


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