RELATIONAL PENSIONS OVERVIEW
A relational pension stores up “relational capital” – relationships with family and friends that will give crucial support after retirement.
THE CURRENT SITUATION
- A 2006 UK study estimated that “among those aged over 65, between 5 and 16 per cent report loneliness and 12 per cent feel isolated. These figures are likely to increase due to demographic developments including family dispersal and the ageing of the population.”
- In the UK, the number of people aged more than 80 is expected to treble in the next 20 years, while those aged over 90 will double.
- In 2006, 7.2% of Europeans met friends or relatives less than once a year. Mediterranean countries tended to be among the most ‘social’ – especially Cyprus, Greece and Portugal, where about 40% or more met friends or relatives on a daily basis.
- Between 1950 and 2010, the number of single-person households in the USA rose from 10% to nearly 27%. By 2033 it is expected that 41 per cent of all households in England will be single-person. This compares with 12 per cent in 1961.
- Australian Facebook users (roughly half the total population) were recently shown to feel slightly more bonded with friends but to experience “significantly higher levels of family loneliness.”
The need crisis
Particularly as life-expectancy increases, retirement presents challenges. At some point it is likely to involve failing health, including reduced eyesight, hearing and mobility, and decreased energy levels. Also, over a third of cancers are now diagnosed in people aged 75 and over. These are not simply technical or biomedical problems. More than ever, we need family and friends to be there for us, providing physical and emotional support. But whether that happens depends a lot on decisions we have made much earlier in our lives – decisions that affect investment in relationships.
Relationships affect outcomes
The evidence shows that family and friends are fundamental to our health and not just bonuses or “nice extras.” Close relationships can help to keep depression away and help you live longer. They can even be integral to overcoming cancer, with studies connecting social isolation to higher mortality rates. At a purely practical level, when healthcare professionals in hospitals are at full stretch, friends and family provide emotional support and ensure that we are properly looked after.
Relational Pensions cannot be state-provided
One effect of our finance-centred culture is that many see their financial pension as the only major issue: if they have enough money, everything else will fall into place. But the evidence shows the contrary. Every year, many elderly people die alone, and increasing numbers of elderly people complain of having little human contact. And this is happening at a time when both NHS and social work departments are operating on tight budgets, and fewer people are giving time to volunteer.
Relational Pensions accrue through personal effort – but government policy plays a role in how easily people can invest time in relationships.
Family as a foundation
One simple way to build your relational pension is to prioritize your close relationships, and to create a family with the goal and expectation of permanence. There is a critical balance to be struck between maintaining individual wellbeing and recognizing that long-term benefits can only be obtained on the basis of meaningful long-term commitment. Staying with your partner and assigning quality time (and lots of it) to your children will give your closest relationships durability and resilience.
The non-financial purposes of work
Work is a key source of relationships. But in most organizations the workplace is also subject to pressures that put relationships in second place. The felt need to stay on at the office, or work unsocial hours, usually involves a cost in terms of your relational pension, because you may not be there at relationally important times – like family meals or your children’s one-off school events. Your time is as much a currency as your money. You can progress up the pay scale, but you will still have exactly 24 hours a day. Investing that time in relationships should be a priority. It’s not complicated stuff – but it has a powerful effect.
The value of rootedness
Mobility in society brings many opportunities, but it also stretches our relationships in a way that we cannot fully compensate for with digital media. Moving house or making a long-distance career move will have multiple relational consequences, and engaging in a cycle of regular mobility can prevent you from building up meaningful relationships. So it is useful to ask the right questions when opportunities to move come up. Rootedness may involve a financial penalty, but this has to be weighed against the losses you will take in your “relational pension fund.”