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The end of early retirement?

The French government announced today that it will raise the country's retirement age from 60 to 62, a move likely to be fiercely resisted by French labor unions. The retirement age was already one of the lowest in Europe and economists have long pushed for it to be raised. They aren't the only ones. As part of its ongoing austerity measures, Greece's government is pushing to raise its retirement age from 61-63.

Of course, the legal pension age is only part of the problem. As this chart from the OECD shows, if you look at when the average worker actually retires, the French are calling it quits earlier than any other developed country: 

 Moves like France's and Greece's are simply inevitable given how long people are living today. By some estimates, bore than half the babies born in France and other developed countries since 2000 will live to the age of 100, and having them out of the work force for half of that time simply won't work economically. 

So are we simply doomed to a long, dull life of endless drudgery? Perhaps not. In a recent article published in the Lancet, a group of demographers suggested some ways that our ideas about work could be transformed to better fit modern lifespans. I wrote about some of them in the most recent print issue of FP

Raising the retirement age will be a necessary first step, the researchers suggest. This carries some risks, not least of which is what the report's lead author, Kaare Christensen of the Danish Aging Research Center, calls the "Prince Charles problem." Just as Charles has spent a lifetime as king-in-waiting behind his now-octogenarian mother, Christensen foresees a bottleneck of older workers preventing younger employees from advancing until their own golden years. One solution is to change the way careers are structured over time, by creating part-time, semiretired positions for seniors and perhaps even allowing workers to put in fewer hours during the years when they're raising children. "Most people have an enormous amount of work between age 20 and 40," Christensen says. "Why not postpone it until you're older and the kids don't want to see you anyway?"

 Perhaps something for Nicolas Sarkozy's government to consider as it faces down the inevitable crippling strikes.

FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

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