Commentary on pension provision: eating brown bread for old age

German insurers are calling for more self-control for a better life in old age. But to do that, you first need enough time, energy – and money.

Still sprinting at 79? You have to be able to afford it Photo: dpa

So this is what it looks like, the citizen who prepares perfectly for old age: Goes to the gym several times a week, eats lots of whole-grain bread and vegetables, regularly spends time with family and friends, and puts away a tidy sum every month: for later, for old age, instead of shelling out money for clothes or travel.

"Future-oriented action requires self-control in the present" is the title of a study commissioned by the German insurance industry. Self-control! Happiness sounds different somehow.

Eating wholemeal bread, practicing consumerism and saving for later – however, this is firstly a class issue and secondly a recipe that could prove ineffective if life plays out differently. The fit and biosupplied body can be just as prematurely attacked by cancer as the body of someone who has drunk and smoked a lot.

Not saving your hard-earned money, but rather taking two months off and cycling through China can also be a form of mental old-age provision, because it creates valuable memories. Leave no regrets! is what happiness research says. It’s advice that people with life-shortening illnesses also pass on to their friends.

Low-paying wear-and-tear jobs

Being able to practice "self-control" for retirement is also a class issue. You have to have the time, the energy and the money to go to the gym and save money every month for later. People in low-paying, high-wear jobs don’t have that kind of energy, especially if they work shifts.

The appeal to individual "self-control" does not level class differences. And the illusion of being able to control the future does not protect against life and its processes of degradation and reconstruction. Accepting these requires a completely different form of confrontation.

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