When you are old and grey

Dear Bloggers,

I came to these thoughts when my nearly 80 year old dad got hospitalized. And after a couple of days he was worried sick about how he could manage at home in this condition. He got a place for the coming weeks in a pensioners home to recover and possibly he might stay here. But that is up to him of course. As my mum past away nearly eleven years ago he is living on his own. Although he is not that mobile as before he does his best to mix and mingle, his health is becoming a bigger and more often an issue. So the question is what is wise and how will my future be. So here is my conclusion that there are very big differences between married, widowers and single persons.

I’m married…and totally bored with articles complaining about the questions couples are asked by concerned friends and family as I worked outside the country as well. For several decades, the supposedly offending questions have not changed: Why did you get married? Are you afraid of being alone? Are you unhappy? Will this relation last? How will you take care of yourself when you are old and grey and your partner is not there anymore?

Of course, no one likes having to defend her or his personal situation; I wouldn’t like defending mine (although to be honest with you, no one ever seems to be that interested in asking me about my relationship status).

But, whether you like being asked or not, the last question is a good one if you are single, married or a happy gay couple or whatsoever with no intention to think about what is coming on your path, then what exactly is the long term plan? I don’t just mean in terms of who is going to take care of you when you can no longer take care of yourself, but how are you planning to afford old age?

A woman who is thirty years old today has a 29% chance of living beyond her 90th birthday and 12% chance of living beyond the age of 95. A man of the same age has an 18% chance of living beyond the age of 90 and a 5% chance of seeing his 95th birthday. Yes we are getting older and older.

These predictions do not take into consideration the possibility that major medical advances will radically extend life expectancy, which given the time frame is likely; most of today’s nonagenarians never expected to live this long.

Every one of us, regardless of our martial status, needs to plan for the possibility that we will live for many decades after we have stopped working. But the need to plan for widows and singles is much greater; not only are they more likely to find themselves buying the services (like housing) but they are likely to be buying those services on a much lower income.

Being married does not provide you with a guarantee that you will have someone to care for you when you are old (although, you have to admit the odds are much better than when you remain single), but being married makes it much easier to accumulate wealth over your lifetime.

Research has shown that the wealth level of married couples at the age of retirement is significantly higher than that of both single men and women, with single women heading into their sunset years with the lowest level of wealth it is less than one third the wealth level of married couples.

And because married couples are able to accumulate more wealth, their income in retirement is also much higher. In fact, one study found that at the age of retirement single women could anticipate living on an average income of only €9.000,- per year and single men on an income of €12.950,- per year, compared with an annual average income of €29.000.- for married couples.

Part of this discrepancy in wealth and income can be explained by differences in the earnings of married men and single men (married men earn more) and the gender wage gap. That strange enough is still existing
The big difference, however, is that it is simply cheaper to live as a married couple than it is to live alone and that lower cost easily translates into higher savings for married couples. And, of course, it is also cheaper to live as a married couple post retirement, which means that married and unmarried seniors experience large differences in standard of living.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading an interview with some well known economists and financial experts to share their biggest financial mistake. I told them that my opinion was just staying single. Don’t get me wrong, there are benefits to not being married, but those benefits come at a high cost in terms of long-run financial well being. As even the tax is still different between married and unmarried couples. That is weird and old fashioned.

Unless you already have a concrete plan, if you are single and someone asks how you will take care of yourself when you are old and grey the answer really should be this: “I have no idea, I worry about that myself.” Live life as you want it but I think that a lot of things in the world need to be changed to a more fair way of making a living.

The Old Sailor,


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