Blind Freddy can see that our society is changing – fast!
Whilst advances in technology are acting as catalysts for change in our society, this is not the only force in play. Societal dynamics are also a key driver for change. At the turn of the twentieth century the average life expectancy for males in Australia was fifty-five years and for females fifty-nine years.
This had changed dramatically by the turn of the twenty first century to seventy-nine years for males and eighty-three years for females. That is a very healthy (pun intended!) increase!
It is estimated that life expectancy will continue to increase at a rate close to an additional three years every decade, which means that by 2050 males will have an average life expectancy of eighty-nine years and ninety-three years for females!
The reasons for the increases lie in three main categories:
- Improvements in living conditions, such as better water supplies, sewerage systems, food quality and health education, etc
- Improving social conditions and advances in medical technology such as mass immunisation and antibiotics.
- Lower infant mortality.
Increased life expectancy is a good thing, but it does come with some issues that we are going to have to deal with – and soon. Here’s why….
For more than fifty thousand years humankind has been used to an environment where life expectancy was around the fifty to sixty-five year mark. Live longer than that and you were considered to have enjoyed a very good life.
However, today that expectancy is now over eighty. In fact, two thirds of all the people in mankind’s history, who have lived to over sixty five, are alive today! This has impacts in just about every aspect of society;
- Family life
- Social life
- Working life
Clearly, living longer is very desirable. However, it does have some significant implications – both socially and economically.
Social implications include:
- Perceptions of what being “Old” is are starting to be challenged
- As we, ourselves, age our ideas as to where we fit into society start to change
- Society’s expectations of its aged population start to shift
- Areas of divergence between generations become more acute (i.e.; “OK Boomer” as a term to shut down older members of society by younger members of society)
Economic implications include:
- Re-examining an appropriate retirement age (currently 67 for both men & women in Australia)
- Funding the health and social services provided to older citizens
- Determining the role(s) older citizens can play in the workforce
- Increasing aged care infrastructure (i.e.; hospitals, dwellings, transport, etc) as the aged population increases
The above are, by no means, the only implications but they are the main ones so let’s discuss some of these economic and social implications in a little more detail.
Let’s begin that discussion with the term “Retirement”. The formal definition of that term and the one that is currently widely supported in the community is, “a withdrawal from one’s position or occupation or from active working life”. For the bulk of the population “retirement” is when you sit back and take it easy. It’s when you will get to do all those things that you couldn’t do (but wanted to) whilst work and other commitments got in the way. Is that what this phase of our lives is about? To answer that question, we need to track back a little.
In Australia (and much of the western world) the retirement age of sixty five years for men and sixty years for women was established in 1909 – a time when the average life expectancy was fifty five and fifty nine years respectively. Basically, not many people were expected to qualify for a pension! Even when, in the middle part of the twentieth century, life expectancy increased to seventy years for men and seventy three years for women, retirement only lasted for five to nine years and there were enough people in the workforce (paying taxes) to support that increased cost.
The picture is very different in the 2020’s. Not only has life expectancy increased to a little over eighty years for males and eighty four years for females, but the number of people retiring is now exceeding the number of people entering the workforce.
As of 2015 there were more than 1.6 billion people aged 50+, with this demographic predicted to double in numbers by 2050. In Australia we have one of the longest expectations of lifespan populations in the world. As great as that is, it does present us with some challenges (and we are not alone with these!)
We are faced with a situation where our ageing population’s needs can no longer be funded using the model that all of us have been brought up with – this is one of the reasons why successive governments have pushed ahead with increasing the retirement age.
This does not solve the problem, it merely delays the crunch time when the system collapses – unless something is done to address the core issues (not a topic for this article). After all, whether you retire at sixty five, sixty seven or even seventy, there is still a growing period to deal with (at this stage a minimum of ten years but rising fast) where the social system is required to support its elderly citizens.
The fact that people retiring are going to be around for more than twenty years also significantly alters their perceptions as to what to do. Just how many TV shows can you watch, and trips can you make over a twenty to twenty five year period before you get bored or run out of money? (or both!) We (as a society) need to re-evaluate not just retirement but the whole life journey continuum that has been entrenched for millennia but has especially been reinforced over the last century or two.
However, no matter how the statistics pan out, you can be certain that things will be different from what we have been used to – it must be. The world we have grown up believing to be there is, in fact, not there at all!
Job security is no longer a given – no matter who your employer is. Social security benefits can no longer be relied upon as they once were.
Both economic and social drivers are changing – society has to change with these, and we are already seeing signs of this. Talk with any Millennial in the workplace and they will tell you that they do not expect their current job/career to last. Further, they expect to have to continually learn and update their skills in order to remain relevant. Boomers find this hard to understand because their world was different to this one.
No matter what generation you are from (I’m a Boomer myself), we are all living in the same world. We simply need to learn to adapt to that and the people who do (and I am hoping that you are one) are the ones who will continue to enjoy all the possibilities that this new world represents.
Here is some additional food for thought:
- What do you plan to do with the longevity bonus that you have been gifted? If you are male and reading this it is likely that you will have at least twenty years of “retirement” to enjoy. If you are female, you will have at least twenty two years of “Retirement” to enjoy – what will you do with this?
- Currently, our society largely holds the belief that education is for the young. However, with more than twenty years at your disposal, is that belief still valid?
- There is no shortage of advice available for students to base sound educational decisions around (especially at a tertiary level). There is also no shortage of careers advice – but there is practically nothing on how to gainfully utilise your longevity bonus (outside of hard financial/investment matters). What can/should be done about this?
- If the government cannot sustain financially supporting its aged population what are you going to do about that?
Clearly, we need to redefine what this “retirement” term means. For society that is going to take time but you, as an individual, can redefine the term for yourself – in no time at all!
Retirement is not just about;
- Trying to stay young – you are not young, but you are not old either!
- Watching more TV or listening to more music
- Taking more trips
- Becoming a de-facto babysitter (although grandchildren are a great source of joy)
For me, I look at “retirement” as an opportunity. Retirement is about;
- Starting a new chapter in your life – one that you can write yourself!
- Relationships – rekindling old ones/exploring new ones
- Having fun – doing the things you want to do as opposed to what you had to do
- Legacy – being able to contribute to society in other ways than the work/tax model.
Depending on when you decide to “retire” you will have had anything from thirty to forty five years in the workforce being productive. Just because you enter this new phase of life does not mean that you cannot continue to contribute.
How well you adapt to this transition, and how much of a contribution you are going to be able to make, will come down to one critical success factor – your mindset. How you think will determine whether your longevity bonus will be determined as being well spent or wasted.
In future articles I am going to explore this facet further.
Dennis Hall is an Author, Presenter and Business Development Coach who helps others break free from the routines they have trapped themselves in, so that they are able to enjoy a less stressful and more fulfilling lifestyle, especially in their latter years.
He can be contacted through his website at https://dennishall.com.au