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Changing the perception of retirement

11 April 2012

My Dad is calling ‘retirement’ his ‘gap year’.

Like many his age, he has retired with numerous ambitions, an agile mind, in good physical shape, and with a very long list of things he wants to do.

Retirement is no longer the point at which people are leaving work because they are unable to do their job. When final salary pensions were established, the post retirement life expenctancy was just two years. It is now 19 years, and retirement is effectively another phase of life.

Despite the negativity around our ageing population being a drain on society, it is refreshing to look at our ageing population as an opportunity.

This sentiment has been echoed by several people I’ve heard speak recently. At a recent ILC-UK event, Stephen Balchin from the Department of Work and Pensions pointed out that surely the fact that we’re all living longer, healthier lives is one of the “greatest success stories of the 20th century”? Similarly, in his opening speech at an event looking at the role of social entrepreneurs in an ageing society, Cliff Prior, the Chief Executive of UnLtd stressed that our ageing population is a “fantastic opportunity”.

This is not a new sentiment, as the Guardian covered a study by WRVS a year ago that showed that older people are net contributors to the economy. Yet predominantly, the media shines such a gloomy spotlight on older age:

“Elderly should be encouraged to downsize to smaller properties in bid to tackle housing crisis”

Elderly have more trouble multi-tasking because they ‘pay too much attention to distractions’

250,000 elderly people who’ll be spending their Christmas alone

Elderly face £12,000 levy to pay for future care

That’s not to say that there aren’t serious issues to be addressed – loneliness is prolific, the care system needs a lot of work, and the pension model doesn’t fit any more, but it would be nice to see a more balanced portrayal of later life with more positive stories about successful older entrepreneurs running their own projects, or thriving initiatives that make use of the skills that retired older adults have.

Here are three stories that I’ve read recently, which feel like they are helping to change the way we see old age:

  1. The older model – Intelligent Life profiled Daphne Selfe, a model who is more successful in her 80s than she was in her 20s, as part of a series looking at ‘the 60 year job’
  2. A social enterprise for the retired – T2 wrote about a new initiative called The Amazings, which aims to help older people earn cash and stay socially active, and young people learn skills
  3. Age of Elegance – a piece in the Sunday Times about how a generation of older women is redefining the meaning of beauty

But there’s still a way to go, especially given that according to a recent poll by the Technology Strategy Board, 90% of people in the UK aren’t looking forward to older age. It’s a job for the media, and for us as communicators, to shed the stereotypes associated with retirement.

Just because someone has retired, they haven’t fallen off the edge of a cliff, they are still a valuable asset to society – continuing to have a role as an active member of society is both a right and a responsibility.

         @GeorgieHowlett              @ForsterAGEncy