An opportunity rather than a challenge

The most infamous set of lips in the world, the most infamous male ones anyway, were 70 years old yesterday.

The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, unlike most professional and consciously-constructed enfants terribles, has survived to become an impressive, titled, and energetic éminence gris.

One of his bandmates, Charlie Watts, is already 72, and Keith Richards will be 70 in December, but Ronnie Wood must wait until Jun 2017 before he passes the milestone. Bruce Springsteen, who plays in Kilkenny tonight, will be 64 in a few weeks and Bob Dylan (in concert at Wantagh, New York, tonight if you’re lucky enough to be there) is 72.

Age has not dimmed or diminished these artists but rather made them more interesting and worldly wise. Neither can their energy levels be questioned.

The Rolling Stones gave 10 concerts in the US in May alone. Springsteen’s current tour began in March last year and will end in September in Rio de Janeiro. In the coming week, Bob Dylan will give four concerts in the US. On Oct 10, he opens a tour of northern Europe during which he will give 33 concerts, more or less one every second night. Not bad for a fella of three score and ten plus two.

They, and millions more like them around the world, are redefining what it is to live in that nether world between middle age and a venerable, great age. The cardigan has been replaced by the go-anywhere, adventure-durable coat. The bingo card has been replaced by the boarding pass.

The changes in life expectancy brought about by advances in our understanding of nutrition, medicines, lifestyle, and how we work are truly amazing. The advance of the internet may be the only phenomenon reshaping society in such a profound, unimagined, and unexpected way today.

Just 100 years ago, on the cusp of the 1916 Rebellion, an average Irishman might hope to live to 52 or maybe 53. Today, that expectation has been stretched by more or less 50% — an average Irishman, whatever that animal is or was, can now hope to reach 75. Irish women live even longer, with a life expectancy of 81.

This is reflected in so many ways — the age of State pension entitlement will rise to 68 in 2020; health insurance companies quake at the prospect of an increasingly aged client list unsupported by younger members’ premia; pension schemes already tottering on the verge of sustainability look on the prospect of supporting members into their 80s or 90s with understandable apprehension.

Many of those reaching 65 are reluctant to retire fully and would continue to work even on a part-time basis but many insurance companies will no longer indemnify them once they have reached that arbitrary point. Indeed, some employees have sued the State because they were forced to retire because of age rather than ability. That one of the most prominent of those cases was won by the State points to a situation that will have to be reviewed to reflect contemporary life expectancy. Why should anyone healthy enough and able to do their job properly be forced to retire because of the date recorded on their birth certificate?

This period of life offers many opportunities — if society and individuals plan properly for it. Everything from access to education to professional indemnity seem fixed by a world view no longer relevant so they need to change. As Jagger, Springsteen, and Dylan demonstrate so splendidly, the Third Age is, if you are healthy, just a state of mind. An opportunity to be seized rather than a challenge.

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