Retirement a distant dream for some

Shannon Roberts
14 January 2015
Reproduced with Permission
Demography is Destiny

In many cultures children have traditionally been expected to look after their elderly parents. I think it is lovely tradition that it would be a shame to lose. However, more and more elderly people are finding themselves working long past traditional retirement ages, largely because there are fewer and fewer children to support them.

Now the Singaporean government has actually actively legislated to encourage people to work longer. It has just made it mandatory for companies to offer three more years of work to those turning 62, the official retirement age, and plans to extend that to five years by 2017. It is the latest attempt to try to address the country's labour shortfall.

Last year a committee for the employability of older workers also created an advertising campaign starring a 65-year-old lifeguard (see the image above), a 76-year-old assistant inventory manager and a 60-year-old salmon filleter. The campaign mostly emphasised the wisdom and experience of the elderly helping younger workers - a very valid point as I often think we have lost an appreciation for the wisdom acquired through life. However, I would hate to think of elderly people feeling they have to work even while frail or sick. Will we soon see similar advertising campaigns around the world?

Singapore's employment rate for those between ages 55 and 64 is now 66 percent, among the highest of the 34 nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The following graph shows how other countries compare:

Employment of older workers aged 60-64 as a percentage of the population in the age group: Source: OECD (2014) ,

The above graph shows that New Zealand also has one of the highest employment rates of this age group, despite a recent online survey finding that New Zealand bosses need to treat and cater better to the elderly. In light of the survey, Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive said that employers who do not address the aging workforce are being short sighted.

Like New Zealand, countries around the world are all considering raising the retirement age. However, Singapore has gone a step further in encouraging companies to bring retirees back into the workforce. New registrations by those over 60 at state-run career centres, which help find jobs for workers and re-train them, almost doubled to 4,799 in 2013, from 2,494 in 2008. Bloomberg reports:

"This is a huge change that has enormous social consequences that we haven't fully grasped yet," said Randolph Tan, an associate professor at SIM University in Singapore and a nominated member of parliament.

Will the 'enormous social consequences' be all bad? It is sad if it is not a choice for the elderly to work, especially where the work is inappropriate. However, as I have said on this blog before, if we can make use of the elderly population's wisdom in creative ways, I think everyone likes to feel that they are a valued member of society.