I’ve been writing about the ageing population a lot lately, in terms of:
While all of these factors are valid points to include in infrastructure strategies, it paints a rather drab picture of what it will be like when we inevitably become part of that group of ‘65 years and older’ … even though we probably won’t feel much different on the inside than we did in our thirties, forties and fifties. (I’m speculating, and hoping, here!)
I recently went along to a presentation on longevity, presented by Geoff Pearman of Partners in Change and hosted by Nelson City Council. Geoff made some really interesting points of particular relevance to councils and economic development agencies.
Reimagining the shape of our lives
Now that we are living longer, we have the opportunity to reimagine what a life course might look like. When three score years and 10 was the normal life span, it made sense to spend 20 years learning, 40 years working hard and 10 years putting our feet up.
Now that we are likely to live 20 years longer, the structure of a life could look quite different. It might involve a gap year in our thirties, or a stint at university in our forties to prepare for a new career that we continue to enjoy into our seventies.
A chance to rebalance the role of paid work in your life
New Zealand doesn’t have a retirement age. That means there’s no requirement to leave work at 65. But (at least at this stage) that’s the point at which you get a weekly cash injection, perhaps freeing you to work less hours, or choose a job you like more but pays less, or a job which allows you to take time off for an extended period of travel … in summary, being 65 and over could be an opportunity to rebalance the role of paid work in your life.
At this stage, 25% of people over 65 are still engaged in paid work in New Zealand.
Self-employment becomes less risky
Moving into self-employment also becomes an increasingly viable option. It will feel a lot safer to take this sort of risk when you know there’ll be no week with absolutely no money coming your way! Earnings through self-employment for people 65 years and older are predicted to increase significantly in New Zealand, generating $1.7 billion in 2031 and rising to $2.6 billion by 2051.
A challenge for councils — losing experienced engineers, planners and project managers
People with regular super coming into their bank account have more choices than others about whether to work or not. This is a challenge for councils who have a large number of older staff with specialist knowledge, including engineers, planners and project managers.
They are more likely to stay, and to pass on their specialist knowledge to younger staff, if they feel valued. Several negative stereotypes need to be addressed in order for older people to feel good about their work and their workplace, and therefore continue to contribute their knowledge, skills and judgment (which get better with age).
Negative stereotypes about older people
Myth 1: People become less productive as they become older. This isn’t true. Productivity is directly related to levels of engagement, not age.
Myth 2: Older people will cost more in sick leave. The laggards in this regard are actually people aged between 30 and 45 — they are the greatest beneficiaries of paid sick leave.
Myth 3: Older people will struggle to adapt to new technology because they’re not digital natives. Geoff pointed out that we have been adapting to new technology throughout our lives. However, employers may need to think about how new technology is ‘unpacked’ for older people who may prefer 1:1 learning, rather than a group situation.
Councils are competing for young people
Councils and economic development agencies throughout New Zealand are competing with each other to attract more young people. It may be smarter for councils and other employers to spend a larger proportion of time and energy engaging and retaining older workers.
The Long Game
Thanks to Nelson City Council for hosting a series of events designed to inspire a community conversation about what an ageing demographic means for the region and for each of us individually. Interviews and speakers' presentations are available here.