Monday, June 17, 2013

Retirement Delayed, Deferred, Dodged, Dismayed, Denigrated

Inside Higher Ed has a piece about a survey of  profs about when the boomers are likely to retire.  Given that my generation of profs have been hearing that the old profs were going to retire ever since we got started, pardon my lack of surprise.  In my last job, a solid hunk (more than 40%) of the full professors were at or above 65, with one closer to 90 than to 85.  Why retire when one can hang out with sharp young minds?  Can you retire, given the bumps in the markets?

Obviously, this can be extremely problematic.  I snarked on twitter thusly:
That is, the boomers have been selfish in pretty much everything they have done (the original me generation that ironically hypocritically criticizes the millenials for being narcissists, just as they said the same about gen X).  Given that they have consumed pretty much everything else, why should we be surprised by the boomers not gracefully stepping aside. 

While many retirements are turned into adjunct jobs or cuts, the supply of new jobs is still partly blocked by the old folks not getting out of the way.  But as I get closer to being an old folk, about halfway between when I started and when I plan to finish, I do see some of the merits of hanging around.

The reality is that the 65 retirement age was developed as an expectation when the average adult male died somewhere around 65.  So, roughly half of the men at the time would have a few years of retirement.  Now, folks are living much longer, so retiring at 65 and then living another 20-25 years means not just that savings have to last longer but that one faces a longer period of doing something other than what one has done for forty or so years.*
* My father retired early in part because he thought he would die young.  He has been wrong for more than 25 years. 

A problem, of course, is that the combo of tenure and no mandatory retirement means that unaccountability becomes quite a challenge.  How do you encourage tenured folks to behave well?  If the place is unionized, then merit increases are not much of a carrot since everyone is equally special.  There was some talk of post-tenure review a few years ago, but I am not sure much came of it.  But it will come back, given the demographic trends and the need to open spaces for the next generations of scholars.  Retirement packages to induce folks to depart can work, although I remember the wife of a prominent scholar blasting the school in the media for forcing out her husband with economic incentives.  So, that is not always a clean solution.

While I do not really have a plan given what the various bubbles have done to my portfolio and given that my career has always contradicted my expectations (Texas? Quebec?), my current guess is that I would teach to 70 and then step aside.  Those extra five years mean a heap more money piled into savings, a heap of money not spent quite yet, and hopefully not so much diminished capacity.  On the other hand, if I do start to really suck at my job, I hope that I will have the guts to stop.  And I hope that folks will have the guts to tell me.

One thing that I have vowed to do in my golden but still employed years is to let the kids run things--having the nearly retired folks take heaps of strong stands on things is just not a good idea for most academic departments.  Of course, shutting myself up may be even harder than stepping into the void of retirement.


Jacob T. Levy said...

"And I hope that folks will have the guts to tell me."

[putting it on my reminder list.]

One thing that's widely misunderstood is that life expectancy changes in the 20th century have been mainly driven by declines on infant and child mortality. Conditional on living to age 65, life expectancy hasn't actually changed that much, and so the expected number of years in retirement aren't that different from what they used to be.

Steve Saideman said...

Since you are so much younger than me, and you still have a free post on my blog, I expect you to notify me of my incapacity via blog post when the time comes.

And thanks for updating me on life expectancy.