Charlotte Church wrote:My generation’s retirement prospects are grim – but I have a blissful plan
Current thinking casts a very dark cloud over any optimism my generation can have for our twilight years. So let’s be creative
You know those conversations that keep coming round, such as what you would do if the apocalypse happened (dig down), or where you would go if you had a time machine (either Cleopatra’s Egypt or a Cloud Atlas future to meet face-tat Hugh Grant)? One that occurs more and more within my friendship groups is about communal living in retirement: everyone chipping in to buy a house together, where we can play endless games of Mario Kart, sing D’Angelo round the Bösendorfer and indulge in vast quantities of mind-bending prescription drugs. I feel fairly confident that I’m a few decades away from having to think about it seriously, but I reckon waltzing through the twilight years in a shared house with all your mates could be a great way to loll about before the music stops and the needle lifts.
I have just had a little taste of what it might be like. My friends Elen and James very sensibly got married in Cepha-bloomin’-lonia, and a whole big gang of us (maybe 16 in total, including bride and groom) were all bundled into one big villa for the week. It was nothing short of utopian: to while away the days in gooey sunlight, never wholly sober, comparing mosquito bites and discussing everything other than Tr**p and Br***t, among a clique so unquenchably fun, so unquestioningly generous and so totally incapable of monitoring their alcohol consumption. The whole flock was glitter-glam and gorgeous. And those unspoken communal understandings around divisions of labour, they were happily respected by all. We had got each other’s backs, left no man behind and took it in turns to go to the bakery in the morning. As the week went on, it all began to feel quite possible: a new postmodern mode for family, anarcho-lushness, a gestalt alliance in sequins and cheap wine. It’s the dream, isn’t it – for retirement to be one long holiday?
The current thinking on millennials’ retirement prospects casts a very dark cloud over any optimism my generation can have for old age. A 2018 report from the pensions investment company Royal London said that the average person will have to set aside £260,000 in their working life to have a comfortable retirement. While I’m fortunate enough to be fairly secure in my finances (by the fateful spin of a metaphysical fruit machine in my childhood), the majority of my friends simply can’t afford to save. At least half of them are creative professionals who, a generation back, would have been financially secure homeowners, but now, with student debt and the likelihood of a life paying rent, blowing a few hundred quid on a Greek holiday makes far more sense than dwelling on eventual existential hazards.
I’m going to make a case for hope. Despite the intergenerational slander that Generations Y and Z regularly receive from our elders (in particular, it seems, from late-middle-age “liberal” white guys such as Bret Easton Ellis, Louis CK and Bill Maher), my impression of young adults today is that we have a far greater instinct for collectivism than any of the postwar generations. Growing up in a world with Wikipedia, Napster and streaming subscriptions has meant that concepts of ownership (physical and intellectual) are less important to us than they were to others before us. A preference for meaningful or hedonistic group experiences over the acquisition of stuff (driven in part by the fact that all the tech you need fits into your pocket and costs £30 a month) suggests to me that younger adults are already halfway there when it comes to a culture of cooperation, and we’re aware that the future will demand it of us.
Far from being the epitome of narcissism, individualism and entitlement (as, by the way, every generation in modern history has at some point been described), millennials will, I think, prove to be unique in the contemporary era. By dint of our sorry inheritance of economic, ecological and cultural shit-shows, most of us won’t be indulged with profligate earnings and courted by the “virtues” of consumerism. The entropy of societies has to start reversing because ultimately we need each other more than we need status symbols.
The millennial generation may be destined to be one of the poorest, in monetary terms, but if we’re careful, generous and tactile with one another we could be one of the wealthiest in terms of wellbeing. If we have each other’s backs, if we leave no man behind, and take it in turns to go to the bakery in the morning, I see no reason why we can’t look forward to a glorious collective retirement. I’m thinking somewhere coastal, somewhere I can strip off my make-do-and-mend clothing and pelt as fast as my old-lady legs will allow me, tits akimbo, into the ocean. And, bobbing there on my back I will gaze up at the sky, “the deep blue air, that shows nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless”.
...take your common sense with you, and leave your prejudices behind...