The End of Retirement As We Have Known It – Geoff Pearman

The End of Retirement as We Have Known It – Geoff Pearman

The year is 2038. I am in my 80’s reflecting back on a keynote address I gave a number of times in 2018. At that time I was predicting the end of retirement as it had evolved during the 20th century.  Mind you I was challenged by people then in their 30’s and 40’s “What, are you telling me I am going to have to work until I drop.” Well that was not quite what I was saying.

So what was I saying? Let’s go back to 2018.

The demographers were plotting the impact of the boomer bulge as people born between 1945 and 1964 moved through into their sixties and beyond. The economists were discussing the dependency ratio and the affordability of state funded pension schemes. Politicians were talking about the increased cost of care and health.

The popular press continued to use such phrases as the silver tsunami, the silver surge and the burden of an ageing population. Younger journalists talked about old people as anyone over 65.

But will the surge in the number of people over 65, coupled with increased life expectancy, simply mean more retirees and older people being old longer?

A silent revolution is taking place. The boomers are doing what they have always done, challenging the norms and transforming each life stage as they reach it.

We often think of life as a series of sequential stages that follow just as day follows night.  A linear view of life, around twenty years of education and training, 40 years of work and family and then the dreamed of golden years. The challenge we now face is that the 10-15 years we dreamed of post work is potentially 25-30 years. All of this suggests we are programmed to follow predetermined paths throughout life. But is this the way people are living life?

The answer is definitely no!

Life is more complicated than simply adding up the number of birthdays we have had, creating a set of categories and then conforming to a set of expectations passed down as to how we should behave at different ages and stages. In fact, chronological age is now recognised as the least reliable measure.

American gerontologist and writer Ken Dytchwald argues that rather than seeing life as a series of linear and sequential stages we will increasingly be mixing it up. Why have education just at the front end and defer leisure until we retire.

Looking out 20 years people in their 60’s will not be talking about the previously dreamed of destination – retirement. Rather they will be talking about how they want to live the next stage in our lives, what contribution they to be want to be making, how they can continue to make a difference and how they will support ourselves financially.

We will be mixing it up. Continuing to work but with greater flexibility, moving between paid and voluntary work and leisure. Increasing numbers will be pursuing encore careers. Mature aged people will have the same funded access to tertiary education to upskill and retrain as younger people. Increasing numbers of people over 60 will be setting up businesses for the first time and leading start-ups that are creating innovative products and services. Business development grants and seed funding will be available to them.

Is this the future? Yes, but it is the reality now. People are already choosing the age at which they move to the next stage in their lives or alter the nature of their working life. But are they calling it retirement?

The point at which we exit paid work will have little to do with the age of entitlement to an age pension. For a growing number the intention is already to never retire in the traditional sense.

This quote from a person in their late 60’s may well capture the essence of the change occurring, “Guess what I want to be as I age? I want to be myself … and that may include working.”

American researcher Gail Sheehy observed that the word “retire” has become synonymous with words such as discard, dismiss, resign, retreat, seclude oneself, be unsociable, go to bed. She, like many others are suggesting we should retire the word “retire” and replace it with a word that is much more active. She suggests, “redirect”. A time in your life when you redirect your energies, talents and time.

I am not sure what the new “R” word will be. Do we in fact need one or is it simply about being who we want to be and ageing positively?

Geoff Pearman

Manager Director, Partners in Change

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