Damien Grant: No rest for the ageing

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Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

One of my recurring nightmares is waking up on my 65th birthday with nothing to do, forced to shuffle off to the park and feed seagulls.

I'm not alone. A Ministry of Social Development survey in 2009 revealed 90 per cent of people aged 65 wished to remain in active employment for non-economic reasons. Two-thirds also cited economic motivations for a desire to remain in the workforce.

However, another survey from 2006 revealed only 43 per cent of New Zealand men aged 65-69 were employed, most of them fulltime. Although this is a high number by historical standards, it is important that half of those who want to work are not doing so.

The trend has been a sharp rise in the average retirement age across OECD nations, partly driven by government policies such as increasing the eligibility age for pensions and tightening eligibility criteria for early retirement.

A major driver of this change in policies is the demographic time bomb sitting underneath most OECD nations.

In New Zealand, we have five workers for every one of us over 65.

By 2050, based on current fertility and immigration patterns, there will be just two, and in New Zealand everyone who reaches 65 gets a pension.

The cost of this rising tide can be seen already. Thursday's Budget revealed superannuation costs almost doubling in nine years from $6 billion in 2006 to nearly $12 billion in 2015.

Saving more is not the answer; you must save more than your peers. If there are many old people with money and a small number of young people with labour to sell, the price of labour will become prohibitive to all but the wealthiest retirees, leaving the rest of us to empty our own bedpans.

The solution is to keep working and it seems most of us want to do so. The problem is not with the supply of grey hair in the workforce, the problem is the demand.

Many employers are reluctant to take on or retain older workers. Part of this is assumed to be prejudice but part of it is economic.

Older workers in senior roles are vulnerable when there are younger, cheaper employees waiting in the wings. It is often easier to restructure older workers out of the business than retain them in a less senior role or make the effort to retrain them.

Those successful in remaining in the workforce are those who have specialist skills or those who are self-employed. The most important retirement plan may not be to save more but to plan ahead, to ensure we are positioned to leave the workforce in our own time and on our own terms.

It is always good for youth to be reminded that there is nothing more fearsome than a brash older gentleman in a hurry, tanning a few hides before their time is up.

damien@waterstone.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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