Retirement: Financial security for the long road ahead

Posted: June 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm


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When Social Security was created in 1937, the average American lived to age 60. Since then, medical advances have added decades to life expectancy. Most 55-year-olds today will see their 82nd birthday.

Problem is, we haven't adjusted the way we work, the way we save, or the structure of our public programs to support these extra years, says psychologist Laura Carstensen, head of Stanford University's Center on Longevity and one of the nation's top researchers on aging.

In her newly updated book, "A Long Bright Future," Carstensen, 58, proposes actions for individuals, employers, and public institutions that, she says, will provide us financial security for the long road ahead.

Her other pet project: the just-launched Financial Fraud Research Center, a partnership with securities regulator FINRA that aggregates data and provides funding to investigate why older people are so frequently targeted by scammers. Her conversation with senior writer Donna Rosato has been edited.

You've spent a lot of time looking into the perceptions of aging vs. reality. What's the biggest myth?

At the top of the list is the Misery Myth, the presumption that older people are lonely, depressed, and discouraged.

In one study we had participants carry pagers and randomly asked them to report on their emotions. Older people reported as many positive emotions as younger people, but far fewer negative ones.

The data are striking on mental health disorders too. Anxiety, depression, and substance abuse are much lower in older people.

Great to know we'll be happier than we expect. But surely money plays into that. How can we make certain we'll be secure in our longer lives?

I cringe when I see headlines about most people not saving enough. Humans are very sensitive to social norms, and this makes people feel comfortable about doing nothing. But there are ways to get around our tendencies.

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Retirement: Financial security for the long road ahead

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June 5th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

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