John Goodenough is a sign of the times. Two days ago, he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on rechargeable batteries. He is 97 years old.
He’s also a victim of ageism.
Back in the 1980s, Goodenough was forced to leave his post at Oxford University after his 65th birthday. Why? Because the university has a mandatory retirement age.
Goodenough is now doing research on energy storage at the University of Texas, Austin. He thinks Oxford shot itself in the foot by showing him the door all those years ago.
It’s foolish to make people retire,” he says. “I’ve had 33 good years since I was forced to retire in England. I’m working every day.”
This should be a lesson to all of us. The world is changing, and working culture needs to change along with it.
The old model of swapping work for pensioned leisure in our sixties no longer makes sense. We’re living too long for that.
The answer is not to fill the world with Goodenoughs. He’s an outlier: few of us can hope to be at the top of our field at the age of 97.
But the time has come to make it easier for everyone to carry on doing meaningful work for longer. And a good place to start is by ending the practice of forcing us to retire before we’re good and ready….