School of Sociology and Social Policy

The Bauman Institute

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Life consumed or a time for consumption?

My interest in consumption/consumer society focuses primarily on later life. With governments around the world raising the retirement age and trying to extend “the working life” social divisions are increasingly apparent between those who can retire early and those who cannot. For the Sir Fred’ s (RBS) of this world it will be a time for consumption – starting at 54 with £750,000 per annum! – but for those in lowest 20% income bracket consumption will be constrained.

Indeed Sir Fred’s working life will be about 32 years but he can expect to live for another 30 (at least) in retirement. For anyone who left school at 15 in 1969 they can expect to work for another 10 years – a working life of 50 years. But life itself is “consumed” and life expectancy relates to social class.

In this context “the new poor” (Bauman 1998) look very similar to the poor of previous generations to me – perhaps we should look more closely at the new rich who may be more “liquid” etc? Sometimes in order to help those who are drowning we need to look upstream to check no one is pushing them into the torrent.

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  • It is certainly true that many of my elderly relatives died within a year or 2 of retirement age. This seemed to be traditional behaviour in some communities! Definitely class related. From what you are saying it seems that even as certain groups can expect to live longer they still might no outlive their retirement age by much as this will go up too. The other aspect of this is the quality of life for the extra years. ONS now publish figures not just for increased life expectancy of different groups but also how many additional active and independent years there are. This is quite a lot less than the extra years of life in total. Undoubtedly their will be a class basis to this too. A bit like owning a car or going to Spain for a holiday, by the time everyone can do it the experience is not the same. By the time everyone can live for longer for many it will be dubious benefit. I can see euthanasia being on the NHS in due course.

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