I read an interesting book on my vacation. It provided an overview of the economic growth and technological development that occurred between 1870 and 1970. Reading it made me realize that had I been born a mere century earlier, I’d have grown up without modern luxuries like “electric lighting, indoor plumbing, home appliances, motor vehicles, air travel, air conditioning, and television”. And given that the average life expectancy for a woman was just 40 in the late 1800s, at the ripe old age of 31, I’d be considered geriatric. My impending demise would be the least of my concerns, however, as I’d likely be too busy sewing mine and my families’ clothes, dragging in buckets of water to heat over a hearth for our monthly bath, and raising my many children (assuming they’d made it past infanthood – a rather large assumption, since infant mortality rates were well above 20% at the time).
Retirement, was another novel innovation that had begun to gain traction by the turn of the century. Previously, men had been required to work until death or face destitution in their final few years. The concept of retirement was initially introduced as a safety net to be drawn upon as failing health limited one’s earning ability late in life. However, as life expectancy rose, the investment industry began to equate retirement with decades of relaxation and leisure activity. Commercials showed older couples golfing, traveling or relaxing on a beach, while real retirement risks like cognitive decline, depression and even early death were conveniently overlooked.
Luckily for millennials, the traditional concept of retirement now seems as antiquated as the horse and carriage. Millennials have heard too many Nortel or Stelco horror stories and know better than to place all of our eggs in corporate baskets. Defined benefit pensions are unicorns in the private sector and even if you are fortunate enough to be enrolled in one, there is no guarantee that you’ll be around long enough to benefit from it. Ridiculously high property values will keep many millennials off the housing ladder for the foreseeable future, so cashing in housing equity to fund retirement may not even be possible for many of us.
Given our unique financial prospects, millennials will have to re-imagine the traditional retirement to fit modern times. By avoiding overpriced real estate, keeping frivolous expenditures to a minimum and establishing multiple streams of income, millennials can enjoy retirement perks like freedom, autonomy, travel and personal growth decades earlier. We are no longer content to simply live for the weekend, putting off personal ambitions for 40 years just to have the rug pulled out from under us. Too many of us have realized that depending on government or a corporation for your livelihood is not only unfeasible, but quite frankly, undesirable. And mediocrity is nothing to aspire to.