Living longer, living healthier, and working longer.

The realities of population aging and evidence from research studies are forcing us to change our views on aging, certainly to jettison ageism, and to adopt a new approach to addressing the many issues that aging poses to contemporary society. We are no longer stuck in the belief that longevity merely imposes challenges on society that it does not need, and that because heart diseases for example is common among seniors then aging causes heart diseases, when in fact not all seniors invariably have these conditions, and aging does not cause heart diseases.

Population aging has made us rethink our attitudes toward retirement and post-retirement employment, and indeed, to consider, as many governments in the developed world are now doing, extending the retirement age past its current limit. We are starting to realize that we cannot afford to continue to fritter away the valuable resources that our employed seniors could offer to business, the economy, and society or deny those of them with a wealth of knowledge, experience, and skills and are still able and willing to work the opportunity of so doing. No doubt, public policies and workplace practices in many countries still discourage such seniors from gainful employment. On the average, in OECD countries, less than 60% of individuals aged 50-64 years are in a job, versus 75% of people aged 25-49 years.

However, times are changing. Indeed, such policies and practices are untenable and must change in an age when population ageing is putting immense pressure on the public purse in many developed countries, and essentially compromising living standards. According to the OECD, without such changes, the ratio of inactive seniors per worker would nearly double in OECD countries in the years ahead, from about 38% in 2000 to more than 70% in 2050. The consequences of this would include higher taxes and/or lesser benefits, and a decline in economic growth rates, the estimated decline among OECD countries, about 1.7% per year of GDP growth per capita over the next thirty years, about 30% below the average yearly rates in the period 1970-2000.

Thus, it is inevitable that we promote delayed retirement, and increased employment of seniors, indeed, that we are determined to reverse the current average effective retirement ages in many developed countries, in particular in many countries in Europe, where they are clearly less than official retirement ages. We need to start to take positive actions in this direction, including but not limited to pension reforms. Indeed, the OECD recommends action in three major areas, namely governments ensuring that pensions and other welfare measures promote work in the seniors’ age and not otherwise, including instituting appropriate mechanisms for example, ICT-based, to aid seniors seeking jobs to find them.

The organization also urges employers to end discrimination against seniors, including the policy of compulsory retirement, and to modify their work environment and practices to an age-diverse workforce. It also urges attitudinal changes in seniors towards remaining in employment longer, and embracing training to acquire new knowledge and skills. As the OECD approach suggests, it is going to take the concerted efforts of all concerned to make these changes happen, and they should, and with these parties realizing that the benefits would not be limited to any but would accrue to all of them, they would.

Would the employer for example not benefit from the continuity of the knowledge and expertise of the seniors that stayed longer on the job, not to measure the costs savings in training and of the other incidental events associated with the learning curves of a novice employee? Would the employee not benefit from still being physically active, socializing with colleagues, and making money? Would the health system not benefit from less health spending on a healthier seniors’ population, and society in more resources freed for other activities and programs that improve the quality of life overall? Considering these benefits, it is quite likely that we would see in the near future years more seniors in employment, perhaps than we see today.