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Retirement ages debated on a global scale

For many of us, retirement is the finishing line to a very, very long work/life marathon. Every culture – and every government – looks at retirement differently. A recent report looking at the retirement wishes of Asian workers has shown just how different attitudes about retirement really are throughout the world.

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Retirement ages debated on a global scale

For many of us, retirement is the finishing line to a very, very long work/life marathon. Every culture – and every government – looks at retirement differently. A recent report looking at the retirement wishes of Asian workers has shown just how different attitudes about retirement really are throughout the world.

For many of us, retirement is the finishing line to a very, very long work/life marathon. Every culture – and every government – looks at retirement differently. A recent report looking at the retirement wishes of Asian workers has shown just how different attitudes about retirement really are throughout the world.

In a study released by the Global Aging Institute, researchers found that in six Asian nations - Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea - more than 50 percent of survey respondents believed their government should raise the retirement age.

People throughout the world are living – and working – longer.

The main reasons people are living longer are global improvements to food supplies, nutritional improvements, advancement in healthcare and medicine, and improvements of collective hygiene. As life expectancies grow, there is an increased focus on proving the right kind of support for elderly people. From access to geriatric healthcare to mobility equipment like stairlifts and scooters, older people want to continue to feel independent and fulfilled. Tied to this desire for independence are flexibility of retirement ages, fulfilment of government programs, and expected payout of pensions.

But, if an ageing society is a common future for most countries, will competing opinions about the best time to retire affect how we settle into old age? 

Mandatory retirement ages

Other than providing a wealth of data, the Institute did not extrapolate the various reasons why Asians may be more willing to accept higher retirement ages. Typically, the reasons may include financial, active lifestyles or care issues. In many Asian cultures, elderly people receive traditional support from their children.

"If there is a mandatory retirement age, we need to rethink ... whether people support that," Donald Kanak, chairman of Prudential in Asia, told the Milken Institute's Asia Summit earlier this month. "Whereas we've seen some European countries go into demonstrations when the retirement age was changed relatively small amounts … [within Asia], actually we see a remarkable degree of support."

The results were surprising, especially when placed against European opinions about when to retire. Closer to the UK, there have been mass protests and demonstrations when the idea of raising retirement ages was floated. Last April, airlines flying in and out of France were forced to cancel hundreds of flights. The move was a direct result of walkouts by air traffic controllers because of a proposed change to retirement age from 57 to 59 years old.

Retirement flexibility

In the UK, a mandatory retirement age – once set at 65 years old – has been phased out. The default age was removed in 2011. The move was to combat ageism in the workplace. According to the British government, employees have the ultimate responsibility in how and when to retire.

At the time of the change, Christopher Brooks from Age UK, told the BBC that the move was very important, but there was still work to do.

"Many employers simply see the stereotypes of an older worker, particularly in the recruitment phase and statistics show older workers find it harder to find another job than any other age group," he said.

In the eyes of the government, most people can now work for as long as they want to. In most circumstances, the age of retirement is up to the employees – not the business. And, if an employee wants to work longer – they can’t be discriminated against.

The increasing age of our global population

There are concerns on a global scale in regard to an ageing population. In Asia, their population is getting older faster. According to the Pew Research Center in America, the number of Asians over the age of 60 is expected to hit 1.2 billion by 2050, compared to just 450 million individuals just three years ago.

In a recent estimation by the European Commission, by 2025 more than 20 percent of Europeans will be 65 or over. United Nations data shows it is expected to take the UK more than 75 years for the percentage of the population over the age of 65 to rise from 10 percent to 20 percent.

Hiroko Akiyama, a professor at the Institute of Gerontology at the University of Tokyo, also spoke at the Milken Institute conference.

"If most of the people stay healthy until 80, that's really changed the future picture," she said. "They can join the labour force and also they can control their costs."

For her, control is not about having a mandatory retirement age.

"Raising the mandatory retirement age is not a very good policy," Akiyama said. "The government, I think, [should] create a flexible scheme of employment system, so all diverse people can join the labour force."

Image Credit:  Images Money, American Advisors Group (flickr.com)

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