Older, fitter, indispensable

May 22 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Far from being a drain on society, older people across the world are making huge contributors to the economic and cultural wellbeing of their nations with more staying fitter for longer and more than one in 10 now working into their 70s.

The third annual HSBC Future of Retirement study, thought to be the largest study of ageing and retirement ever undertaken, explodes the myth that older people are dependents whose care drains vital resources from nations struggling to cope with ageing populations.

Carried out with Oxford University's Oxford Institute of Ageing, the project surveyed 21,000 people in 21 countries and territories and revealed that the so-called retirement years are often characterised by good health, independence and quality of life.

Worldwide, some 11 per cent of people worldwide are now working into their 70s, a figure which rises to almost one in five (19 per cent) in the US, with almost three-quarters saying they keep working because they want to.

Only in Russia, India, the Philippines and South Korea did the research show that people were working later in life than they would prefer.

The economic impact of this contribution is immense, the project found.

In the UK, for example, HSBC calculated that people aged between 60 and 80 contribute more than £59 billion ($115bn) annually to the economy in taxes, volunteer work and family care.

In Canada, they contribute $2.2 billion each year in tax payments and $3.1 billion in volunteer work.

In the US, over-60s provide 3.67 billion hours per year of voluntary work. At the federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, that's worth $18.9 billion every year. And in India, people over 60 donate over 1.3 billion voluntary hours per year worth a

total £192 million ($380m) to the economy.

Professor Sarah Harper, Director, the Oxford Institute of Ageing, said that employers needed to recognise that people in their 60s and 70s are a tremendous asset to society and not generally a burden.

"People in their 60s and 70s are vital to our society and if they disappeared from that, families and communities and to a certain degree workplaces would fall apart," said Professor Harper.

"Older people make a substantial contribution to the family in financial, practical and personal care and support. The value of this social care and support within the family is enormous at over £ 50 billion , or around 3 per cent of GDP in the UK alone."

Indeed, older people in all of the mature and most transitional economies surveyed provide substantially more financial and practical support than they receive, with a third of those in their 70s providing financial support to grandchildren.

According to the research, the key to the growing contribution made by older people is that people are now able to live the lives at the age of 70 that previous generations would have enjoyed at 50.

"In terms of health the age of 70 is the new 50," said Clive Bannister, group managing director of insurance for HSBC.

"The report found that retirement is as good or better than people's expectations and advances in healthcare have sustained this."

Indeed, he pointed out, there are now only small differences in terms of control and quality of life between people in their 70s and those in their 40s and 50s.

In mature economies, three quarters of people in their 60s feel in good or very good health, with the highest proportions of healthy people in their 70s to be found in Canada (76 per cent), the UK (73 per cent) and the United States (72 per cent).

Generally, the transitional economies surveyed report good levels of health, too.

However as Stephen Green, HSBC Group Chairman, pointed out, while the fact that we are living longer ought to be cause for celebration, recognition of this achievement is too often buried beneath concern over the funding of retirement.

Yet missing the camaraderie of the workplace - rather than the fear of not having enough money to live on Ė emerged as the biggest concern for people both before and after giving up full-time work. Not only is there is life after 60, the report found, but it is often much better than expected.

"As individuals, we need to recognise that there is the potential for good, healthy, active contributory life after 60, and we should prepare accordingly," the report concludes.

"Those in power, in our governments, communities and workplaces, need to ensure policies are put in place to enable older people to remain as active as they wish and are able."