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    Age and work: why demographics mean a rethink on retirement

    12 January 2022

    Steve Butler

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    2 minute read

    Thoughts on a recent series exploring population change

    Insights on demographic change

    “The past is terrible, the present is catastrophic. Thank goodness we don’t have a future”.

    If this fitting Armenian proverb reflected reality rather than a droll take on the eternal struggles of mankind, there would be little point in running a business dedicated to improving what tomorrow holds.

    Indebted as I am to The Times diary for sharing it, I thought it neatly illustrated how many of us see our later years. In not actively planning for it, the prospect of a later life can seem too distant to be real and can therefore be safely ignored.

    ‘Twas ever thus, is the cry from those (me) who have spent decades in the pensions and investments business, imploring clients, contacts and, yes, anyone who will listen, that becoming more involved with saving for a time after work is by far one of the most effective tasks you can undertake (we’re getting there, I believe).

    So it’s with some satisfaction that I see I’m not the only one banging this drum. For amid the grey skies and freezing temperatures of the new year, the ebullient journalist Amol Rajan has presented a daily half-hour examination of the impact of ageing on, well, everything.

    A changing world

    The series, called Rethink Population, has a wide spectrum of guest academics, authors and thinkers means there is little untouched in this wide-ranging debate on demographics and what they mean for our collective destiny.

    For someone studying for a doctorate in the impact of age diversity on our economy (and the author of four books dealing with the increasingly intergenerational workplace), you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a subject all too familiar.

    But the reason I’m blogging about it is because it’s not only right up my street but a genuinely fascinating and accessible way to get to grips with a trend affecting us all. It will satisfy even the tiniest kernel of curiosity you may have about what can be an esoteric and even austere subject (it is mortality, after all).

    How ageing is changing the way we work, live and plan

    Andrew Scott, one of the authors of The 100 Year Life, which I included on a recent reading recommendation post, was particularly compelling on how we need to reimagine the “education, work, retire” shorthand into something less linear and rigid. He was advocating more in terms of a multi-stage life career, which addresses different needs at different times of your life.

    Other nuggets also resonated. He added that one in five people in the UK who have retired, “unretire” to go back to work with a renewed sense of purpose and appreciation, despite the “education, work, retire” infrastructure being less than accommodating. Education will be increasingly important but so too will automation, as many jobs are likely to transition from physical to cognitive, making age less of a barrier to the workplace in its increasing number of forms.

    Contributors to the Rethink Population series also questioned why it was that over-50s is a label often conjoined with “part-time work” when the reality and possibilities are far more varied and nuanced.

    And as for the mantra of life-long learning – why should it stop at graduation at 22 or 23? For example Georgia Tech has banished the term “alumni” as it claims it now sees just students, albeit at different stages. Singapore offers its citizens a voucher to spend on higher education at any time in their lives, be it 25 or 85. Ikigai, the Japanese concept of ‘your reason for being’, that which gives a sense of purpose, was also referenced as an idea which should resonate.

    This lively series confirmed two things for me. The first was that we are currently experiencing an identifiable, measurable shift in our working lives. This topic featuring on national radio is further confirmation of its relevance in our post-pandemic, hybrid working new normal.

    The second thing is: what seems interesting - but academic - doesn’t have to be. Programming like this helps to propel even the reluctant into thinking about what the future can realistically hold. And perhaps even think about preparing for it.

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    Amid the grey skies and freezing temperatures of the new year, the ebullient journalist Amol Rajan has presented a daily half-hour examination of the impact of ageing on, well, everything.


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