"Retire? I'm not dead yet. Who made 60 the magical number? I want to stay in the game for as long as I can. Maybe I'll start a company. . . . If I stayed home all day, my wife would probably divorce me."
This is not a quote from a midlife men's group. It is the bold come-on in a magazine advertisement for the investment firm Morgan Stanley.
The financial industry gets it. People who manage other people's money understand the imperative of longevity: Men and women are going to have to stay in the game. It's the money, stupid. There is not enough money invested in private retirement accounts to see coming generations through a post-employment period of leisure that could last 30 years or more.
This is the shortfall scenario of aging. It drives the national debate on the future of Social Security. It fuels public anxiety and rage over the collapse of traditional pensions.
The financial industry has grasped that the aging boom is not just about adding years to the end of life, it's about adding healthy years of vitality and productivity before the end. Its marketing strategy focuses on the potential in retirement. An advertising supplement to the New York Times magazine last month -- "The Power Years: A User's Guide to the Rest of Your Life" -- emphasized the pursuit of dreams and new careers: "Take some time to remember the hopes you felt before you were busy being responsible for everyone else," read the script.
Researchers refer to increases in years of good health -- or health span -- as the "compression of morbidity paradigm." According to this theory, disability rates in older people go down as life expectancy goes up. When this optimistic view was proposed 25 years ago by James F. Fries of Stanford University, most physicians as well as the public were skeptical. The prevailing mythology was that living longer would just mean more years of suffering with a chronic illness.
But it turns out that Fries was right. "He was on to something. We've seen declining disability rates. We've seen increases in life expectancy," said Robert N. Butler, president of the International Longevity Center in New York, which issued a review of Fries's research late last month.
In one study, for example, Fries and his colleagues followed 1,700 University of Pennsylvania alumni for 20 years and found that those who adopted healthy habits were able to postpone any signs of disability for almost a decade longer than those who smoked, were obese or did not exercise.
Increased health span is the new model of aging. To the financial industry, it represents a demographic pot of gold. The bottom line is that most people are able to work in some capacity beyond traditional retirement age. Staying longer in the work force, earning money and investing rather than drawing on savings, is a way for individuals to avoid the shortfall scenario -- and for money managers to benefit from having more money to manage.
The Morgan Stanley ad, which is aimed at the boomer generation of health span beneficiaries, is selling this new vision of the future. A good-looking man with only a little gray hair is shown sitting before a computer. He's approaching 60. Retirement is not an option, implies the ad.
Then right to the punch line with this advice: Stay in the game. . . . Start a company. Try a new venture. Don't just stay home all day and do nothing.
And what about the wife? The ad's kicker gently raises the possibility of divorce, acknowledging the importance of satisfying relationships and the stress on marriage in this stage of life.
The ad brilliantly captures the conundrum facing millions of Americans: Where's the next chapter? What is possible? Who's with me? Once those questions are answered, the ad implies, no more shortfall.
Welcome to the New Utopia of aging.
But there's one nasty problem: There aren't jobs for all those who want new careers. Not in the business world, where the trend is to reduce the number of older workers. Not in the public and not-for-profit sector, where organizations are largely unprepared to hire experienced workers even as volunteers. The real shortfall is in the workplace.
That's why simply raising the age eligibility for Social Security is not a solution. Meanwhile, the Morgan Stanley ad offers one answer. Maybe the only way a 60-year-old man can get a new job is to start a company.
Are you in transition? Have you found your what-next? Are your primary relationships changing? Respond by e-mail to email@example.com. To send U.S. mail, see the address on Page F2; mark the envelope "My Time."