Golden oldies redefining remit of retirement

Sat, Feb 16, 2013, 00:00

QShould there be mandatory retirement ages?

Much has been made of the fact that Benedict XVI will be the first pope in six centuries to hang up his mitre, but is it really so surprising that someone heading towards 90 should seek to reduce his workload?

The pope has already worked for more than 20 years beyond the normal retirement age in the EU and, like many in his line of work, his career really took off only when he entered his 60s.

He is not alone in making a mockery of the mandatory retirement age of 65. Rupert Murdoch and Warren Buffett are in their 80s and have an enormous influence on their respective businesses.

Closer to home, broadcaster George Hook got into his professional stride fairly late in life and continues to be a powerhouse of Irish broadcasting, despite the fact that, at 71, he has been entitled to draw the old-age pension and collect his bus pass for more than five years.

There is a long list of people who made their greatest contribution to society after the age that many considered them past their best. Colonel Saunders, the bearded gent behind the KFC franchise, used his first pension cheque to set up the business, while Peter Roget, who gave the world the thesaurus in the 1850s, published it when he was 71, a decade after he retired from his medical practice.

We have Otto von Bismarck to thank for the notion of a retirement age. Alarmed by the spread of socialism throughout Germany, the Iron Chancellor tried to win working-class support by introducing legislation giving social welfare payments to people over a certain age.

While Bismarck wanted to appease the masses, however, he did not want to pay for it – so he set the retirement age at 70, knowing full well very few poor Germans would ever live to cash their first pension cheque.

Dramatic change

Things have changed dramatically since the 1880s and someone who retires at 65 today can expect to enjoy more than 20 work-free years on average. Many people would like to spend at least some of those years working and would have much to contribute as a result of hard-won experience if they were allowed to by the State or employers.

Shifting demographics and the impossibility of funding State pensions for decades has seen the retirement age pushed back across the developed world in recent years. The age at which people retire will most likely be well over 70 by the time a 20-year-old reading this gets to retire.

In the EU and the US, more people are retiring later and while most people have still stopped working by the time they hit 65, just under 20 per cent of Americans over that age were still working last year, compared with just 10 per cent in 1985.

European numbers tell a similar story, suggesting mandatory age limits may be close to their “best-by” date.