Most of us think living longer is a disaster: is it?

Longevity concerns: can we afford it?
Longevity concerns: can we afford it?

A new study into longevity has revealed that we see living longer as overwhelmingly negative. Some 44% of people under the age of 65 think it's bad for society, and 50% of those over the age of 65 think it's a disaster. We're worried that the country cannot cope with so many older people - and there's a good chance we can't cope personally either.

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The study, by Chase de Vere, found that people are worried that services cannot cope. Some 81% of people over the age of 65 think the NHS can't handle all the extra old people, while 73% are worried that social services will be overwhelmed, and 52% are worried about the additional cost of state pensions for so many older people (among those under 65, the figure worried about pension costs rises to 58%).

Our finances

The study also raised the fact that many of us are not equipped to deal with living longer personally - because we are not saving for retirement. The average man aged 65 and living in England is expected to live to the age of 83.8, while the average woman will live to 85.6. Those figures are up 29% and 14% respectively, but we haven't really thought about what this means for us.

We are far less likely than our European counterparts to have taken steps to prepare for retirement. The average contribution to a workplace pension has fallen significantly in recent years, and the savings ratio is down from 11.6% in 2010 to just 5.1% now. This compares terribly to Germany where it is 9.7%, Austria where it's 12% and France where it's 14.8%.

We do appreciate that it's up to us to save for our own retirement - with 57% of people of working age accepting we have a responsibility - it's just not translating into concrete action. Only 33% of those under the age of 65 had invested their savings for retirement (compared to the European average of 50% and the average for those over the age of 65 of 39%).

And it's not that we are accepting working later in life either. The study asked people when they wanted to retire and for those under the age of 65 the most common answer was 'as young as possible' - given by 39%. Just 28% wanted to retire at a typical retirement age and 19% wanted to work later.

What can we do?

Chase de Vere, emphasises that we cannot afford to wait for the age of 65 before realising it might have been a good idea to prepare for retirement. It says the key is to start as young as possible. It uses the example of investing £100 in your 20s. If your money grows at 6% a year it will be worth £179 after ten years, £321 after 20 years, £574 after 30 years and £1,029 after 40 years. You don't have to save an enormous amount in the early years, just make sure you revisit your contributions whenever you get a pay rise.

They add it's worth looking into what your workplace has to offer, as all employers have to pay into employees' pensions (or they will once the company is part of the auto-enrolment rules). The other big advantage of investing through your company is that the money leaves your salary before you ever see it - so there's no temptation to spend it.

If you are investing for yourself, consider tax-efficient things like ISAs and pensions. Also consider how much risk you are prepared to take, and be prepared to consider investing in shares over this kind of long time frame.

Because while most people consider living longer a negative, if we have saved enough for a comfortable retirement, there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to enjoy far more golden years rather than dreading them.