Home care worker Dorothy Harrison-Stafford, 74, works for Salvation Army HomeCare in Tauranga.

She puts in 16 hours a fortnight as a caregiver, something she's done the past 10 years after a stint in real estate.

"I wanted something more secure. I enjoy the company. I have two lovely clients ... and I'm just so thankful for the ones I've got."

She, like many of her peers, had chosen to continue working well after she became eligible for the pension.


As the average life expectancy increased, older workers were playing an increasingly important role in the economy.

Ms Harrison-Stafford agreed.

She used to work 40 hours each week until retirement. She wanted to fill her time - and supplement her income.

"I could survive on the pension, but just having that little bit extra gives me the chance to go out for a meal, go out and have a nice coffee, mingle with my friends a bit more."

Another HomeCare employee, Pamela McArthur, 79, worked six hours a week.

She said her son wanted her to move with him to Aongatete, but her social life was in Tauranga. She said her retirement from nursing lasted 18 months.

"I found I was dipping into my meagre savings ... I thought: 'I can't go on, I'd better look for a job'." Ms McArthur saved money for trips every other year, and planned to take a cruise next month. "I love going overseas and travelling."

Official estimates of life expectancy showed one-third to two-thirds of the current generation of babies will live for a century or more.

Already, the population was working well into their 60s, 70s and beyond out of necessity, desire, and sometimes, both.

Social scientist Carole Gordon, who specialised in gerontology, had been studying what is referred to as the "silver economy" for 30 years. She said people aged 50-plus were the biggest consumer group on the planet, and New Zealand had the highest proportion of people 65 and older in the workforce among the 34 countries of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). "It's because we're well, and on that innovating side, there are a lot of small business owners." Ms Gordon, herself in her 70s, said health care expenses, rather than superannuation costs, will cause the most pressure on society. "People are generally well, but still need hip operations. The workforce has a big role in terms of changing its environment to accommodate people working longer.

"Just because you're 65 and get the Gold Card doesn't mean you're not a productive worker." Ms Gordon said older employees took less time off, were less sick, more diligent and more productive.

Numbers from Statistics New Zealand based on the 2013 census showed nearly 2 per cent of the paid workforce for Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty were aged 70 and older. Mitre 10 Mega in Tauranga, known for hiring older workers, reported 2 per cent of its employees were in their 70s, and nearly 9 per cent were aged 60-65.

Economic development organisation Priority One hosted an elder entrepreneurs forum last year and continued to collaborate on issues of the ageing workforce with local government, the health district and businesses. Chief executive Andrew Coker said retirement was a redundant term, and our population boom was causing more mature workers to find new ways to contribute. "We're seeing a large number of people relocating from Auckland to here, and because the jobs aren't here, they're setting up a business or buying a business."

Adrienne von Tunzelmann, in her late 60s, runs consultancy firm McKinlay Douglas with her husband, who was in his early 70s.

Mrs von Tunzelmann enjoyed working, as well as serving on boards including Tauranga and New Zealand Age Concern, Osteoporosis New Zealand and on a committee of Pharmac.

"We've evolved and kept doing things that interest us. We've had a lifetime of building up those skills and realise there are lots of ways to utilise those and be a contributor, and not just in your line of work."

Angela Lawes worked 30 to 35 hours each week as a chef at The Burnt Fig Cafe in Brookfield. She got up at 5am on work days. The 71-year-old said she had a mortgage to pay off, but even if she didn't, she would still have a job. "I've always enjoyed the interaction and motivation. I get a kind of buzz when I've had a busy day and everybody's worked well together."