Older people are staying in their jobs for longer or even returning to work after having retired. The reasons for this are many – one of which is what demographers are calling the grey tsunami. As life expectancy increases and fertility declines, the population pyramid is being turned on its head. This effect is being seen in many countries and will inevitably have widespread economic consequences.
I am a sixty-year old divorcee with no pension, so I am one of those people who is being seriously affected by current economic circumstances. I have been a freelance copywriter for a while and also make some money from writing this blog but the realization that I probably still have many years ahead of me, made me think twice about turning down a recent job offer. If I could make more money while I was still able to do so, I felt I needed to take the opportunity. I know I am not alone in this as many people of my age, especially those who have gone through a divorce, feel the same way. I had made attempts to find a job over the past few years but was unsuccessful. I had helped my ex-husband run his business for over 20 years so I was not lacking in experience but my age definitely seemed to be a factor. After sending out countless resumes, I decided I would continue with my online activities and only take a job if it presented itself to me without any effort on my part. Well, I am now about to return to the world of formal employment after many years of absence. The thought of it is both invigorating and terrifying.
Graying Nations are Reinventing Retirement
The fact is that the higher the number of older people, the more elderly people have to be supported by younger working adults. The West is getting old – that is a demographic fact. In the United States there is a large ageing population that is expected to reach 72 million by 2030. This is about 21.3% of the population.
The situation is worse in countries like Japan, Germany, France and Spain. Nearly a third of Japanese citizens are expected to be 65 and older by 2030. By 2050 Japan is expected to have 72 elderly for every 100 people of working age. In France, 23.4% of the population are expected to be 65 and older by 2030 and in Spain the figure is 22%. In Italy over a quarter of the population will be 65 and older in 2030.
This grey Tsunami could be completely devastating unless a shift in perspective takes place. A rising share of the population will be seeking increasingly expensive medical treatment and this is just one of the factors in play. The Sandwich generation is a term used to refer to those being pulled in two directions – still trying to support adult children as well as care for ageing parents. There is no alternative but to begin to think differently about retirement than the way we did in the past.
Move away from ‘three boxes’ thinking
People are often choosing to work longer than they did before, even if it is in a slightly different way. They may choose to work in a consulting capacity after they have left a formal job or even turn a hobby into a business. Others are turning to the internet for opportunities to earn. There is no denying the demographics but this is not necessarily a prophecy of doom. Perhaps we have to begin by changing our mindset. Richard Bolles is the author of a book called “The three boxes of life and how to get out of them”. In the late 1970s he predicted that we would move away from three stages that have been the norm – the learning stage, work stage and retirement stage. Thinking about your life in these three boxes can create a mental barrier that’s hard to overcome. We have to start thinking about learning, work and play as being lifelong experiences.
Reasons why I want to keep working
Many retirees are returning to work for a multitude of reasons. Money may be the most pressing reason but it is often not the only one. People are living longer and staying healthier for longer too. Older people are often just as productive as younger people, and maybe more so. Personally, I no longer have the distraction of looking after a husband or children. I am in a position where I can devote myself wholeheartedly to my job. I am reliable, loyal and I have a strong work ethic so I think most employers would be lucky to have me.
I needed time to heal after my divorce and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to do so without having to face the hustle and bustle of the corporate workspace. However, I now know that it’s time to move forward. I have plenty of experience that can still be put to good use. I think many older people benefit from working for as long as possible – it keeps mind and body active, gives opportunities to continue to make a difference and offers a social outlet and sense of belonging. I also believe that as older people continue to stay productive for as long as possible, some of the stereotypes of ageing will be broken.
Elizabeth F. Fideler, a researcher, found that working women over 60 had a sense of accomplishment. Working seemed to be synonymous for them with a sense of self-esteem and well-being. She wrote a book called Women still at work: Professionals over sixty and still on the job.
I am perfectly happy working from home and I would have been happy to continue to do so. I have been free to work in exactly the way that suits me, even if it means working in my pyjamas or until all hours of the night if I feel like it. I am never bored but I do miss some of the interaction that happens in the workplace and look forward to that aspect of my new job. What I do not look forward to getting up early in the morning and driving to work. I have no working wardrobe to speak of so it may be fun to buy some smarter clothes for a change. I will just see how it goes – it can’t hurt to try it and I may just enjoy it. I am really nervous but I suppose that’s normal. I will keep you posted on how it’s going as I have no intention of giving up on blogging.