While we recognize that research and tech industries need to maintain a competitive pace with their peers by maintaining a younger workforce, the trends indicate a diminishment in the value of working to a ripe old age, both by employers and for employees. While we don’t agree that experience is without value, it’s clear to us that proper planning for an earlier retirement, rather than later, can contribute dramatically to life expectancy and quality of life.
Optimum Strategies for Creativity and Longevity By Sing Lin, Ph.D., Member of National Council of Chinese Institute of Engineers – USA/Greater New York Chapter
1. Most Creative Years in the Life The Nobel Laureate, Dr. Leo Esaki, delivered a lecture entitled “Innovation and Evolution” during the 2002 US National Engineering Week (University of Dallas) in which he observed that most of the great discoveries and innovations by Nobel Laureates occurred at the average age of 32 even though they only received recognition for these discoveries much later in life. As one gets older, the experience increases but the creativity decreases steadily with the age. Therefore, it’s extremely important to encourage and cultivate people to get interested in science and engineering at a younger age and to provide them an optimal R & D environment that will encourage them to unleash their very strong creativities during their peak creative years.
2. Longevity Vs. Retirement Age The pension funds in many large corporations (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, AT&T, Lucent Technologies) have been “Over Funded” because many “late retirees” who keep on working into their old age and retire late after the age of 65 tend to die within two years after their retirements. In other words, many of these late retirees do not live long enough to collect their fair share of pension money. The Boeing experience is that employees retiring at age of 65 receive pension checks for only 18 months, on average, prior to death, while the Lockheed experience is very similar, only 17 months, on average, prior to death. Of greatest note: the same data set reveals that people who take early retirements around the age of 55 tend to live long and well into their 80s and beyond!
3. Changing Trend of U.S. Pension Plans Traditional pension plans of many major US companies used to place a lot of value on experience with longer term employees seeing dramatically increased pensions as their age + service years increased beyond the threshold of the 75 rule. Many of these same companies are now switching from their traditional retirement pension plans to the new portable Cash Balance Plans.
These new plans are very favourable to younger employees, but older long -term employees find their pensions reduced by 30% to 50%.
One implication of this trend is that the U.S. corporations are now placing more value on the higher creativity and adaptability of younger employees, and less value on the experience of the older employees.
Our take on Conclusions and Recommendations Dr. Esaki’s observation, pertaining specifically to engineers, is that the most precious, creative, and innovative period in life is the 10 -year period around the age of 32.
This observation could be applied in a broader sense: to plan a career path to use this precious 10 -year period wisely and effectively to sow the seeds for your greatest achievements. By working very hard in the pressure cooker for 10 or more years beyond the age of 55, you give up at least 20 years of your life span on average.
As we get older, we should modify our career path and plan our financial matters to enable a comfortable retirement at around the age of 55 after which we can work part -time, at a more leisurely pace. The corporate trend appears to encourage a younger retirement age and values a generally younger workforce for their higher creativity and adaptability, and clearly indicates that the experience of older employees is less valued. This article was edited for length and can be read in its originally published form by clicking the following link [Sing Lin, Ph.D.] We hope you find this fascinating information worth sharing with both the younger and older people in your life.