Official estimates of life expectancy show one-third to two-thirds of the current generation of babies will live for a century or more. Already we're working well into our 60s, 70s and beyond out of necessity, desire, and sometimes both.

Social scientist Carole Gordon, who specialises in gerontology, has been studying what's referred to as the 'silver economy' for 30 years. She says people aged 50-plus are the biggest consumer group on the planet, and New Zealand has the highest proportion of people 65 and older in the workforce among the 34 countries of the OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation 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, says 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 says older employees take less time off, are less sick, more diligent and more productive.

Numbers from Statistics New Zealand based on the 2013 census show nearly 2 per cent of the paid workforce in the Rotorua District are aged 70 and older.

Salvation Army HomeCare employee 79-year-old Pamela McArthur enjoyed a long nursing career, including 14 years in obstetrics with the Rotorua Hospital Board. Her retirement 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 says she saves her money for travel and is planning a cruise next month.

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"I love going overseas and travelling."

She funds a trip every other year by working six hours each week, which she's done for nine years. "The pension covers the basics, but not the extras."

Dean Bradbury, 67, started working at Rotorua's Agrodome eight years ago as a farm tour supervisor. He still holds that position, but is cutting back from five days per week to four.

"I've worked all me [sic] life since I was a kid. It's about time to slow down a bit. Life's like a toilet roll: the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes," he quips.

Before the Agrodome, Mr Bradbury worked mostly as a stock agent and auctioneer. Would he like to retire?

"If the government would pay a decent pension, yeah. We mainly squeeze by; we're freehold ... but I'd probably go mad if I actually did nothing."

Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive Darrin Walsh says the Kiwi workforce as a whole is ageing and many people continue working past age 65 because they can.

"People are ageing better, they're more sprightly now and I think that has to do with the way we live."

In addition, Mr Walsh says older business owners continue providing jobs, learning new skills and embracing technology. Globally, studies show seniors are the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurship.

"There are people 50-plus coming into businesses, running a business, coming in with ideas that are driving change," says Mr Walsh.

Age Concern Rotorua accredited visiting services co-ordinator Joanne Bryant says people in their 70s and 80s are also embracing volunteerism.

"It makes them feel valued and useful, and helps them retain their identity."

Mrs Bryant says today's septuagenarians are active in walking and writing groups, and even mountain biking.

"If you think about how your parents behaved as 70-year-olds and how we behave, it's totally different."

Age Concern Rotorua has 60 volunteers who spend about an hour a week visiting clients. The organisation is also developing a "superskilled services scheme" where retirees with a particular skill can add their name to a list to help other older folk.

Dean Bradbury says he likes his job, but eventually plans to work one day a week and spend more time mowing his lawn.

"I've been outdoors all me life ... sitting behind a desk with a tie is not me."

- To volunteer with Age Concern, call (07) 347 1539