Today in Russian class we got sidetracked (from our discussion of a point-counterpoint article: “Was Stalin a Great Military Leader or Not?” Yes, Russians still discuss this!) and started talking about retirement. In Russia, retirement age is 55 for women and 60 for men. This seems silly to me, particularly in light of the fact that the median life span for Russians is 70-something for women and only 57 for men. So I asked, “What’s the reason for this policy?” knowing that the answer would probably irritate me in one way or another. The (female) instructor said, “Women have concerns other than work, like love, family, etc., whereas a man’s responsibility is to work.”

Knowing I wasn’t going to get anywhere arguing that work is just as important for women or that men might find just as much fulfillment in family life, I said, “Well, if women need to devote time to their family, wouldn’t it be better to have that time when they’re younger?” After all, the instructor had also just told us that 45 is considered a special age for a woman, because her children would be all grown up and she would have more personal freedom.

So this got me thinking. This is of course a completely crackpot idea and not an original one either, but: what if the retirement age (for everyone) were later, and people took a sabbatical earlier in their life, to have kids, to travel, to write the Great American Novel, whatever. Several old people have told me that retirement isn’t so great — you get all that free time, but you’re not energetic enough to enjoy it. So maybe after five or ten years in the work force, having paid your taxes, you can collect Social Security for a couple of years and pursue your own interests. Then you have to wait until you’re 70 to retire, but better to sit at a desk at 60 than 30, don’t you think?

I’m not a materialistic person, but I’m not good at saving money, either. In my 7 or so years in the work force, most of my disposable income has been spent on experiences — domestic and world travel, language classes, evenings out. Sometimes I feel guilty about this, that I’m being irresponsible in not saving more for the future. But then I think, better to be a poor but interesting old person than a comfortable but boring one. And you never know if you’re going to get hit by a train or something — better to have had a fun life, than to have saved up a bunch of money that you’ll never use, right? (Within reason, of course!)

An institutionalized policy of youth sabbaticals would ameliorate any guilt I feel about my lifestyle. More importantly, it would result in a more fulfilled, well-rounded populace, and possibly reduce unemployment rates.

OK, I SAID it was a unoriginal crackpot idea. But isn’t it nice to think about?

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