Longer Life and Creating Retirement Security

Increasing life expectancy is a contributing factor to the vulnerability of pension systems worldwide, helping drive many countries toward an impending retirement crisis. This article, however, asserts that increasing longevity may actually be an opportunity for creating economic growth and stability—but only if retirement systems adapt. Appearing in the February 2013 edition of European Pensions, the paper argues that by allowing individuals to work longer, linking the retirement age of social security systems with changes in healthy life expectancy, ensuring that employer-sponsored pension plans achieve sustainable risk profiles, and supporting employees in retirement planning, longer life can, in fact, help create sustainable retirement systems.


An important gathering of retirement and aging experts from across the world took place in Geneva, Switzerland in December, 2012. Hosted by The Geneva Association, the Life and Pensions ‘Four Pillars’ conference focused on the future of retirement and explored the primary means by which retirement security can be achieved: social security, pensions, personal savings and employment in retirement.

The key messages from the conference were that pension systems in many countries are on an unsustainable path. People are living longer, spending more years in retirement, depending more on social security than occupational pensions or personal savings and increasingly anticipating the need to work in retirement. The risk is made more acute by the fact that many pension systems are under funded and require contributions from current workers to support the growing retired population. Demographic shifts show rapid growth in the retired population compared to working-age people. The result is an intergenerational risk that depends on continued population growth, economic growth and real economic opportunity for younger generations.

Despite these facts, in country after country, retirement age continues to rise more slowly than healthy life expectancy.