Three Views on Australian Retirement & a Fourth Joins the Fold
Most of the extensive literature concerning the complexities of retirement in the twenty-first century, or ways to plan for, or cope with it, is written by Americans for Americans.
The world-wide trend of the Boomer generation exiting the workforce and the serious implications this phenomenon has for national economies and societies has garnered increasing and concerted attention. It is therefore particularly timely that Australians are finally beginning to consider how, on the one hand our society on the macro level is being affected by the needs and demands of a growing number of ‘active middle agers’ searching for meaning, purpose and the possibility of re-employment in an age of longevity, and apparent ‘workerlessness.’
While on the micro level we need to acknowledge that, “Boomers themselves are on the edge—improvising a new life stage in the face of a disappearing social contract between employers and employees: a purposive life course; and inertia and upheavals of outdated or disappearing educational, labour market and retirement policies, practices and customs in the face of digital technological, global economies and the ageing of the population. All of which makes their life chances and life quality both uncertain and unique” (Moen, 2016).
To date, less than a handful of Australian authors: Tim Sharp (2014) Live Longer: Your guide to positive ageing and making the most of life; Mark Butler (2015) Advanced Australia: The politics of ageing; Patricia and Don Edgar (2017) Peak: Reinventing Middle-Age; and David Kennedy (2017) End of the Retirement Age: Embracing the pursuit of meaning, purpose and prosperity, have taken up this challenge.
Tim Sharp is an expert on positive ageing. He is Adjunct Professor at UTS Business School and RMIT School of Health Sciences. He is also a psychologist and CEO of the Happiness Institute.
He argues that apart from planning for our financial security we should give serious consideration to our social and emotional wellbeing, especially as we live in an age of longevity. Contrary to accepted belief, Sharp believes that happiness can increase with age, provided we are willing to put in the hard yards, in the right places. Sharp provides his own recipe for finding happiness, but you will need to read the book to find out.
He warns us about the dangers of neglecting our social relationships and underscores the value of ‘fostering good quality relationships and communal connections.’ Lacking these intimate and vital connections can lead to depression. Isolation and loneliness being the most serious and silent of health hazards, especially to an ageing population.
Sharp has given serious thought to ways in which individuals can plan and successfully transition to life, post work. His framework called – ‘Protirement,’ similar to David Corbett’s (2007) Life Portfolio, also takes a broader view of life beyond being defined solely in terms of our work. In doing so we learn to pay closer attention to issues of balance and satisfaction. The essence of ‘portfolio’ is the way we invest or allocate our time and energy. It includes 5 spheres: (i) some form of work or income production, (ii) self- development, (iii) recreation, (iv) connections with family and friends, and (v) community work or humanitarian endeavour. The challenge for each of us is to find the combination that best expresses our unique identity and goals as well as brings us the greatest satisfaction. Sharp believes, as do I, that this approach will ultimately be the norm in the future.
Mark Butler is a former minister of Mental Health and Ageing, in his book, Advanced Australia examines the politics of ageing at the macro or federal level. He does not restrict his observations and recommendations to the Australian political landscape but offers valuable comparisons with countries such as: United Kingdom, Canada, United States, New Zealand and Japan. He points out that the average Australian life expectancy has increased by 25 years over the past century. A monumental achievement with huge political impact for decades to come. The ageing of the Boomer generation will impact almost every area of policy—retirement benefits, economic, budgetary, health services, aged care and even voting power. Advanced Australia endorses a positive approach to ageing and encourages us to recognise the continuing contributions that older Australians make to our communities and society.
Pat and Don Edgar are researchers, policy analysts and age advocates. Their book, Peak: Reinventing Middle Age focuses on Australians in the 50-75 age bracket. They argue that by 50 as we enter middle age we are at the midpoint of our productive adult life. These are our peak years and are the gift medical science and changes to our lifestyle have given us. Yet, many of us are burdened by the false perceptions that these years are the beginning of decrepitude and decline. Quite the reverse is true— many Australian ‘middle agers’ are engaging in productive activities that give meaning and satisfaction to their lives.
The book offers only a cursory examination of a range of relevant areas: changing family structures with the re-emergence of intergenerational households; more and more middle agers opting to recast their lives in ways other than in traditional paid employment: a surge in senior entrepreneurships and new start-ups, others retraining, upskilling and relearning to enter new professions; and the necessity of paying attention not only to our physical health but also our mental and social wellbeing.
The bulk of the book presents 10 short biographies of Australians from diverse backgrounds who have embraced their middle age in a variety of interesting and uplifting ways.
David Kennedy’s (2017) End of the Retirement Age: Embracing the pursuit of meaning, purpose and prosperity is a welcome addition to the canon. David Kennedy is an author, consultant and owner of an award-winning financial investment practice.
His book focuses on micro issues that are particularly relevant to the Boomer generation. It is an optimistic book; at times referred to as a ‘handbook’ for retirement as it can serve as a reference point in discussions on a wide range of contemporary issues surrounding retirement.
The book takes a novel approach in that even though he comes from a financial background, he has come to appreciate that for an ever-increasing number of individuals the non-financial aspects of a retired life—the social and emotional aspects as well as the pursuit of meaning and direction—is paramount. Thus, combining the financial and non-financial concerns of a generation in transition.
I feel that it is precisely because several chapters are focused on and are pertinent to the Australian landscape and the financial challenges that many Boomers grapple with post work, that sets this book apart from most other works of this kind. David Kennedy also needs to be commended for making these chapters accessible to those of us who do not feel particularly comfortable with numbers.
According to Kennedy we have reached the end of the retirement epoch. Individual odysseys have been part of a bigger migration—not only from one job to another but also from midlife to an emerging period between the middle years and anything resembling old age. It’s the story of a generation’s movement into unfamiliar terrain, often a daring adventure that carries with it the potential to be one of the greatest transformations of the twenty-first century.
We learn the reasons for the Australian government’s recent cut-backs to age pensions and welfare support and ways we need to adapt, especially the importance of setting aside regular instalments into our super funds earlier and consistently to meet these challenges. He argues that ageing Boomers are not the ‘problem’ and ‘burden’ on the economy they are made out to be. That ‘more than ever, mature-aged Australians are a significant and increasingly willing part of the solution to the financial challenges of an ageing population.’
Kennedy also answers a few salient questions like: How much do we need to save (post work) to feel financially secure? Are we ‘programmed’ against our best interests to focus on the short term, preventing us from making sound financial decisions that would benefit us in the long term? He provides us with tried and tested financial strategies to help us not only to make sensible investments in uncertain times, but also to establish good financial habits.
Other topics that are highly pertinent to Boomers’ lives are: tips on the ways we can use social media to boost our job prospects, as well as suggestions of sites or platforms to visit if we need help finding those rare employers who don’t consider age a disadvantage.
The chapters that deal with the difficulties and frustrations that Boomers experience trying to find employment on an on-going basis spoke very strongly to me and they also validated my personal experiences. Many employers continue to commit age discrimination and have not made any attempts to change well entrenched age discriminatory practices.
Consequently, time and time again, mature aged Australians are barred from employment and workplace opportunities. Unfortunately, this trend will only be exacerbated by the increasing integration of robots and AI (Artificial Intelligence) into the workplace, creating a future that may very well become ‘workerless’.
There are also some very interesting chapters that examine: cutting edge Australian medical research aimed at extending the human life span and finding a cure for ageing. Things for us to ponder and debate whether all this progress is to be applauded?
He includes 8 short biographies from as eclectic group of Boomers: academics, social media entrepreneurs, retirement coaches, business owners, fund raisers, psychologists and actuaries, who have all successfully transitioned to fulfilling post work lives. The message is clear—'They can, so too can we.’
I strongly endorse the value of reading this book. I believe that it should be read by the widest possible readership. A ‘must read’ not only for those of us who have retired or are planning to, but by all Australian government ministers who hold relevant portfolios.