Financial TimesFinancial Times

Retiring at 62? The French have it absolutely right

By Simon Kuper

02 Feb 2023 · 3 min read

Editor's Note

The standard Anglo-Saxon view is that the French should get with reality. That view is wrong, argues an FT writer. The French are right to protect "a golden decade" of freedom in retirement.

The route for protest marches in Paris runs along our boulevard. The cycle of French life is that, every few years, the government tries to make everyone work longer, until a popular uprising kills the plan. With Emmanuel Macron wanting to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64, the uprising has resumed. The other day I squeezed out of our building, past the Communist party stand in front of our door, on to the street packed with marchers, and scanned the banners: “Giving one’s life to the boss, no!”

I used to take the standard Anglo-Saxon view that the French should get with reality. French 62-year-olds can now expect to live to 85, creating what’s close to the longest average retirement in global history. Work until 65, and you’ll still have 20 years for boules, I always thought. But my life here has been a series of realisations that on the biggest issues — the Iraq war, nuclear power, cheese — the French tend to be right. I’ve changed my mind about pensions. The French have led the world in creating a glorious new lifestage: the first golden decade of retirement. Their system remains just about affordable. Everyone else ought to learn from them.

Sign in to informed

  • Curated articles from premium publishers, ad-free
  • Concise Daily Briefs with quick-read summaries
  • Read, listen, save for later, or enjoy offline
  • Enjoy personalized content