December 12, 2018 — This is Part 1 of a 2 Part Series. Part 2, “Older Workers Face Bleak Employment Prospects“, describes the problem along with some strategies to overcome them. Back when the concept of retirement became institutionalized, our live expectancies were nothing like what they are now. When Social Security came into being in 1935 the retirement age was set at 65, but the odds were that if you made it that far you wouldn’t be collecting long. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s life expectancy for men was 59 and 63 for women: for people born in 2018 the expectancies are 83 and 86.
Although not everyone over 65 is healthy, vigorous, and mentally sharp, millions of us are. Which leads many experts to propose that in the face of a tightening employment market, employers should consider putting the whole idea of retirement on hold. This excellent article in Nautilus, “Retiring Retirement: A Growing Portion of the Elderly Look Anything But”, explains the growing phenomenon of people who are not acting their age, and the reasons why they should be more gainfully employed.
The authors give some wonderful examples. One of their fathers-in-law, a 97 year old retired Air Force Colonel, is posed in front of his brand new car. He lives alone, travels, just starting taking Spanish lessons, and looks 25 years younger than his chronological age.
Many people who are retired don’t want to be. They have too many skills and too much energy to be sidelined – particularly as the U.S. working age population declines in size relative to older Americans. The thesis of the piece is that more needs to be done to keep older workers and their talents employed, not only for their health and well-being (people who work at least a year after age 65 tend to live longer), but to benefit society by putting their talents to work. Older workers are more likely to have a college education as well.
Here is our favorite quote from the article – a great way to look at the gift our longer lifespans provide us:
“We need to stop thinking about chronological age as a meaningful marker,” says Laura Carstensen, the director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity. “We’ve been given 30 extra years with no strings attached.”
She goes on to say that “We have to think about creating new cultures, and changing social norms and institutions to build a society that supports long life.”
Researchers at the University of Illinois confirmed that more and more older Americans are in good health and capable of working well passed traditional retirement ages. They found that nearly 30 percent of citizens over the age of 85 remain in excellent health.
Some employers are getting on the bandwagon as a way to retain difficult to replace older workers. BMW revised some of its production lines in Germany, making changes like flexible magnifying glasses and ergonomic chairs to make it easier for older workers to retain their productivity. BMW later expanded the pilot program in other countries. Stanley Consultants, a U.S. firm, continually finds ways to keep older employees productive, and hardly anyone actually retires there. The company consistently ranks on the AARP’s annual list of best employers for workers over 50.
Would you like to keep working past your traditional retirement age, or are you already doing that? Did you find barriers to working as you went over age 50? Are there modifications to your job that would have allowed you to stay on the job? Please share your thoughts on this topic in the Comments section below.
For further reading
Fit Seniors Have Hearts That Are 30 Years Younger