AS I SEE IT
BY MARIANNE HERON
Is it time to retire retirement? Attitudes to age and retirement can seem more than a little old fashioned in the light of longevity. Just think about it, if Hollywood icon Kirk Douglas, who died aged 103 recently, had retired aged 65 he would have spent 38 years in retirement or almost half an average lifetime. At least he could afford to retire.
Pensionable age became one of the surprise top voter concerns during the February 2020 Election. The fuse which ignited the row was the anomaly where pensioners who retired at 65 suffered the indignity of having to apply for job-seeker’s allowance until State pensionable age at 66.
Much heat but little reasoned debate was generated as political parties offered to turn back the clock and return pensionable age — 66 and due to rise to 67 next year and now deferred pending the deliberations of the Pension Commission — back to 65.
But it turns out that this may not be what a majority of those around retirement age want. Standard Life’s recently published survey found that 52% of those surveyed didn’t want to retire, they wanted to continue working. And money wasn’t the main reason for this. A sizeable proportion wanted to avoid boredom (41 %) others wanted the social contact and involvement offered by work (37%). And who can blame them, as it’s really not great to suddenly find yourself on the wrong side of a grey employment ceiling. Far from being over the hill, you are ready to climb the next one.
So, if people want to continue working why not let them do so and drop retirement contracts which oblige many workers to leave at 65 and drop mandatory retirement, something which has already happened in the US and UK?
Those who continued working wouldn’t need to draw their pensions, saving the State a sizeable amount, it would save employers money too – it costs around €40,000 to replace key employees. It might keep continuers in good health, too, as those who stay on at work live longer on average than retirees.
Having a one-size-fits-all retirement age ignores significant questions around age and different types of work. We don’t age equally and your biological age maybe a better indicator of how well you are ageing rather than the number of candles on your birthday cake. Some of us are younger biologically speaking than our chronological age and others, sadly, are not.
Attitudes to continuing to work after traditional retirement age also depend on the type of employment. Those doing manual labour, in boring jobs or poor health, more prevalent in those lower down the socio-economic scale, are more likely to want to stop working. (All of which could explain why Sinn Fein want the retirement clock turned back for their supporters.)
Those with interesting, rewarding work are more likely to want to continue working. Ever notice the way that creative types – actors, artists, writers and musicians – all continue working to a ripe old age? Maybe that is what keeps them going: look at film star director and Clint Eastwood (91), broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough (95) and Edna O’Brien (90) all still creating and contributing.
So much has changed since the Old Age Pension was introduced here under British rule in 1908 for those over 70 (the weekly rate was between 10p to 25p). At that point the average life expectance was around 52 years. It was believed that the brain stopped developing at a certain age whereas, thanks to neuroscience, we know that brains retain their plasticity and their performance can be improved into late age but, equally, that use it or lose it applies.
It seems, given the findings of that Standard Life survey, that many people around retirement age want a choice about continuing work, with lives where they can carry on contributing and being involved.
They should be given the dignity of choice.