Financial advisors seeking to help clients prepare for retirement face the challenge that retirement itself is in flux. Changes in economic conditions, lifestyles, life and health expectancies and technological capabilities all promise — or threaten — to transform what retirement will be like, and how it will compare to people’s hopes and expectations.
Some perspective on the future, of retirement and more, may be gained by reviewing past visions that turned out to be wrong or at least highly premature. One broad lesson of such retro-futures is that predictions of sweeping change often are overblown; another is that sweeping change, when it does occur, frequently bears little resemblance to predictions.
Consider the scenario below. Though it reads like science fiction, it is from a serious-minded report, with the sober title “Commercial Space Transportation Study,” that was presented to NASA by a consortium of aerospace companies in 1994 to assess various potential uses of space. One possibility raised was retirement in orbit:
“For long-term residences in space, the elderly may be some of the people who could benefit from living in reduced gravity conditions … Without the heavy weight of gravity pulling down on them, elderly people may find themselves far more self-sufficient than they were on Earth. If they were only able to get around a little in their room and dress themselves while on the ground, they may find that they are able to get around enough to completely take care of cleaning, cooking, or other chores. In some cases, they may want to perform some type of job. It is possible that very little staff would be required to maintain a retirement center in space because the tenants could care for themselves.”
The study weighed some pros and cons of space retirement: “Additional benefits to living in space would be the novelty of it, the great view, and the experience of renewed health because of reduced gravity. Psychologically, it would be necessary to screen tenants in order to avoid those with neurological problems. Another disadvantage would be proximity to friends and relations. It would be hoped that at least one close friend or relative could make the transfer to space living also, or that communications would be adequate for satisfying the tenant’s need for old friends on Earth.”
When might space retirement get started? The year 2015! The report offered a scenario of “hundreds of people” living in orbit this year, many of them retirees. In reality, the number of people in orbit recently has stood at six (with no retirees). Moreover, NASA has relied on Russia to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, since one thing that actually has been retired, not in space but from it, is the U.S. space shuttle fleet.
A number of companies, including Boeing and SpaceX, currently are working to develop a new generation of spacecraft aimed at making Earth orbit more accessible and affordable. Space enthusiasts, moreover, hope that future tech advances will in time allow settlements to be built on the moon, Mars and other celestial bodies. Still, anyone on Earth today who is entertaining thoughts of retiring in space would be well-advised to have a backup plan.
Robots for Retirees
Consider another futuristic retirement scenario: retirees getting help from household robots. Here’s a description of that prospect from a 2014 article in the magazine U.S. News and World Report: