This is the third in a series of columns on aging, beginning with how our society handles retirement in old age, to the need to revisit and reform our overall pension system.
The traditional view is that as workers reach old age (60 years and above), they become less productive and, hence, more dependent on others for support. Such thinking feeds into the fear that an aging population will be a bane for an economy—from a contraction of the working force and, hence, decline of overall productivity over time.
Aging does come with its share of risks—particularly with the onset of age-related diseases, like dementia or Alzheimer’s. As I discussed in the first of this series of columns, elderly health-care expenditures in the Asia-Pacific region are expected to balloon within the next 15 years to five times as much as they were last year—from $500 billion in 2015 to $2.5 trillion in 2030.
Indeed, elderly workers may not be as agile, as healthy or as strong as their younger counterparts. But to view the aging of a population with negativity assumes that seniors can no longer be productive citizens, and hence, shouldn’t be expected to engage in any work whatsoever.
Throughout history, however, old-timers worked throughout their senescence. The expectation was, as a 2014 article in The Atlantic puts it, “if you were alive, you worked.” In fact, the world’s first formal pension system created by Prussian Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck in 1881 pegged the retirement age at 70, which was roughly the life expectancy of many Germans at the time. In short, people were expected then to work until they can, instead of idling away the hours in their sunset years.
This more positive view of aging is gaining ground today. For instance, a recent Pew Research Center study of US federal employment data showed that, while only 12.8 percent of Americans older than 65 held a job in May 2000, by May 2016 that number had already grown to 18.8 percent. In Germany only 28 percent of people aged 60 to 64 were employed in 2005, but by 2014, that number had almost doubled to 52 percent.
To be sure, the recent economic downturns have forced governments, particularly in the developed West, to tighten their belts and cut back on pensions of their elderly—making it imperative for the latter to keep on working.
But more important, better health care and education throughout the years have led to growing numbers of healthier, more educated seniors who are willing and motivated to keep on working.
Consider a recent joint study by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago’s Norc Center for Public Affairs Research showing that six in 10 Americans aged 50 to 64 plan to work past the traditional retirement age of 65.
Or the 2014 Manulife Investor Sentiment in Asia survey finding that up to 64 percent of Filipino respondents were in favor of raising the optional retirement age to 65 years old from 60 years old today, expressing that they want to keep on working in their old age to support themselves, as well as to provide for their loved ones.
All these simply call for more jobs to be created across the Philippines, but equally important, new job descriptions for the seniors.
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