If you’re 50 and working, your days may be numbered

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We’re living longer, but that doesn’t mean we can work for longer.

A Lancet study of healthy working life expectancy in England found that, on average, people there can expect to be healthy and in work for only nine-and-a-half years after the age of 50. And not all those years are lived consecutively as people experience health problems.

Fears of a growing aged population draining national finances will see the eligibility age for the Australian Age Pension pushed back to 67 in 2023.

Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) undertook a three-year study, Healthy and working life expectancies in an ageing Australia, because “it is critical that additional years of life are at least matched by the increase in the years lived in good health, and that gains in healthy ageing are experienced across all sectors of society. There is also a great need to balance older adults’ capacity and opportunity to work with societal pressures to delay retirement.”

The Lancet study found “healthy working life expectancy is higher for people in non-manual or self-employed occupations than for those in manual occupations”.

“People living in the least deprived areas tended to stay healthy and in work for almost four years longer (10.53 years) than those living in the most deprived areas (6.80 years).”

People began working longer late last century.

“For well over 100 years, men had been retiring at earlier and earlier ages. Something shifted in the 1990s, and they began working longer. The story for women is different. They weren’t always in the labour force. But now we see employment rates rising for women at every age,” says Nicole Maestas, an associate professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School in the United States.

She says in 1970, life expectancy for US citizens who reached age 65 was 78 for men and 82 for women. Today, men and women who have reached 65 will on average live to ages 84 and 86, respectively.

“If you expect to live into your 80s or beyond, it’s natural that you might still be working in your 60s and 70s,” says Assoc. Prof. Maestas.

Some people work longer because today’s information economy jobs are less physically demanding. People in their 60s are in better health today than they were 50 years ago and they’re better educated; people who are more educated are more likely to work at any age. Many longer-lived people must extend their working lives to support themselves.

“In 2017, 32 per cent of people aged 65 to 69 were working, and 19 per cent of people aged 70 to 74 were employed,” reports health.harvard.edu.

“The projection for 2024 is that 36 per cent of people aged 65 to 69 will be in the labour force, far more than the 22 per cent who were working in 1994.”

In Australia, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) says life expectancy for males born from 2016–2018 is 80.7 years and 84.9 years for females – up from 55.2 and 58.8 years respectively for those born from 1901–1910.

If we live longer, governments need more of us working longer.

Australian National University (ANU) figures estimate for every older person, there were five working-age people in 2011. That will be less than three in 2056.

The percentage of the population aged 65 and over is set to increase from 14 per cent in 2023 to 24 per cent in 2056. The old age dependency ratio (the ratio of people aged 65 or more to those aged 15–64) will rise in the same period from 21 per cent to as much as 42 per cent.

An ageing population leads to a shortage in the labour force and increases in expenditure on age pensions, health care services and aged care services.

However, the ANU reported many barriers to ongoing work participation for older people beyond poor health:

  • caring responsibilities
  • lack of non-school qualifications and training
  • age discrimination and workplace inflexibility
  • the demands of manual occupations
  • job dissatisfaction
  • long-term unemployment.

The ANU recommended government policies should:

  • adopt a ‘health first’ approach to address the root cause of worklessness
  • provide more workplace flexibility and rational pathways for older people to work with decreasing health and energy, even with disability
  • increase secure part-time or casual jobs as the economy becomes service-based
  • adopt a whole of life approach to health, employment, and training.

There’s debate about whether working later in life is good for more than your income and the nation’s coffers.

Harvard Health says some studies link working past retirement with better health.

“A 2016 study of about 3000 people, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, suggested that working even one more year beyond retirement age was associated with a 9 per cent to 11 per cent lower risk of dying during the 18-year study period, regardless of health.

“A 2015 study of 83,000 older adults over 15 years, published in the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease, suggested that, compared with people who retired, people who worked past age 65 were about three times more likely to report being in good health and about half as likely to have serious health problems, such as cancer or heart disease.”

But stressful jobs are a risk factor for coronary artery disease and stroke, physically demanding occupations increase the risk of serious injury and boring or meaningless jobs add to stress. And plenty of studies find health benefits to retiring, including a “substantial reduction in mental and physical fatigue and depressive symptoms”.

“We do know that staying mentally, socially, and physically active — which working may enable you to do — is good for health.

“Mental stimulation and problem solving are good for maintaining thinking skills; social engagement is associated with staving off chronic disease; and staying physically active, even if it’s just walking, can lead to both better health and sharper thinking skills.”

Assoc. Prof. Maestas recommends working on.

“But be smart about what you’re doing. Don’t stay in a job you hate. Try to find something that’s meaningful and gives you purpose. If you’re happy at work, that’s one sign that work may be good for your health.”

When do you want to stop working? Are you planning for the possibility you might have to stop before you want to? Will you ‘test drive’ retirement before you finally pull the pin?

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Total Comments: 15
  1. 0

    being a carer i wont ever stop doing what i’m doing but it isn’t legally recognized as work

    • 0

      Same here, tisme.
      I can see myself still caring when I am in my 80s.

    • 0

      Just hope it is not boring work tisme/star.

      Having a pod of kids late in life I certainly will not be retiring if I can help it. Nor would I want to – they are number one. Even if they can seem like entitled little buggers at times.

      Failing some chronic disease the 50, 55 and 60 even 65 year old retirements of my childhood seem unreal. It is easy to say I suppose ‘you should only be working at what you enjoy and then why would you want to leave it’…still, it seems a fair ideal. Here’s to doing what I like and want still at 90. (gotta last till then though)

  2. 0

    My working days were over in my 40s.

  3. 0

    I stopped at 55 due to a combination of factors. I have no regrets at all, my initial retirement was at 48 and due to a number of factors primarily driven by work place stress. I completely changed areas of work and worked part time until 55. In the past 17 years I have done the ocassional job but it has to fit in with the other things on my plate – like teaching English as a volunteer in St Petersburg, Russia. This is the first year since 2007 that I have not been in my school there.

    The undiagnosed stress problems that lead to retirement have long since gone and I have plenty to do in retirement. On the down side there have been three major operations in the past 15 years and another is due (all were/are related to a bicycle accident in 1977).

  4. 0

    i am 75 years young and still working, I run three businesses from home, a small car rental business, an import business from the states and am qualified to do heavy vehicle HVRAS inspections for QLD registration at customers premises, my wife is 62 and for the last three years has her own hair salon with another woman business partner
    we haven’t missed out on things as we have done trips to Europe and the states, although I think the virus has stopped that happening again, have had plenty of road trips and more to come in the future, besides the virus the only thing slowing us at the moment is we have my wife’s 83 year old mother now living with us, don’t know what i will do when i get old

    • 0

      I’m 77 and still work 3 days a week. I love it. It was helping to pay for holidays before this Covid19 stuffed it up but it’s still like being paid for a hobby.

  5. 0

    Boy, although I wasn’t happy at the time, am I now (27 years later) glad I retired at 52!

  6. 0

    It was hard enough trying to find any kind of work 2 years ago at age 65. Is impossible now. I had an interview a few months ago, and the interviewer told me that health concerns outweigh age concerns. I was classed as being in a ‘high risk age bracket’ for dealing with the public. Quite happy to not even bother about applying any more.

    • 0

      Looking for work after 65 should not be necessary these days – leave that to the younger ones. We did our bit mostly from age 15. Boredom might apply to some people who were used to go out every day doing something they liked. I got retrenched and replaced by the computers, the job I liked was gone and really I could not wait to finish work after many years in the hospitality industry. That industry is on its knees due to Covid-19 anyway and I certainly would have lost my job again.

  7. 0

    Its interesting to base the study on the UK and compare it to Australia. Questions I’d have are what are the wages like in the uK in comparison to Australia? Are the standards of living the same? What is health care access like etc.

  8. 0

    For those of us who have some health issues and are past 60, with the current job market dealing with the Covid 19 situation – the possibility of having any work depends totally on occupation. If a person has worked all their lives in the hospitality industry and is currently unemployed there is no chance to obtain any future employment in that industry. There currently are vast numbers of more suitable young workers out of work. Why would any employer choose to employ an older person who would struggle with the physical demands of the work required? The option of this older person, (who is 63) is retraining into another industry. This is actually pointless as by the time training is complete that person would be even closer and maybe even more unhealthy and less able to work and therefore less appealing to any future employer. The caring society would stop pushing our older citizens to keep applying for employment when none is to be found. It is difficult to live on the benefit (once corona supplement is removed), so the only person who would do that would be someone who could not actually stay in employment. My suggestion is that all mutual obligations, to apply for employment and meet with a jobactive consultant are removed from all people over 60 and the younger person is pushed into employment instead. The life expectancy of the person with chronic health issues is a lot less than the current expected life expectancy. For instance if someone who is 63 now and dies at the age of 66 they will never have received a days pension. All people are not the same.

  9. 0

    My grandfather in England was a self employed arbitrator who lived alone in his roomy ground floor flat and had a part time cleaner and gardener. He worked until the age of 91 as a car was sent for him when his opinion was sought. His eyesight was going a bit so he decided to retire and was later found in his chair, at the age of 95, by the cleaner as if he was asleep. My mother, his daughter, lived to the same age.

  10. 0

    Yeah RosePerth Greedy selfish old people like you should move over and give young people a job. You make me sick.

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