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Monday 23 July 2018
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Commentary

To retire or not?

Marina Salandy-Brown writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

Facing retirement is a daunting business for some, for others it is pure liberation from a lifetime of commitment. Arguments exist on both sides of the dilemma of what is a good retirement age, and for companies and governments it is often a conundrum working out a sensible policy that is fair to workers and not damaging to the economy.

On the whole, the retirement age is creeping up across the world as people live longer. In most countries 60 is no longer the magic age when you set sail into a blissful retirement, reasonable pension in the bank, children all off your hands, and you start tending the garden or playing golf or whatever pastime you never had enough time to indulge. In most countries you now have to wait until at least your mid-60s to face the devil. And I say that advisedly. It used to be almost a cliché that men would drop dead not long after retirement, cheated of their post-retirement plans, leaving their wives to long years of widowhood. That paradigm is changing as work patterns do but there is an abundance of evidence to show that forced retirement still causes early death.

A friend of mine whose age is a big secret, except that she must be in her mid-sixties is about to leave her wonderful, if stressful, job in the creative industries after thirty-five years and she has made a very long list of things to do and places to go, in a fearful frenzy of having no purpose when the dawn breaks on her new life, with no husband and no child or parents who need her to be there for them and no structure to her day. Maybe she read the any number of studies, which suggest that people in high stress, adrenaline-pumping jobs acclimatise badly to the easy life.

For example, the early death rate among retired blue-collar workers whose jobs can be relatively predictable and also risky is several times higher than for other retirees. To overcome that, some companies offer counselling for retirement.

Some routinely provide training for allied professions that could be practised on a freelance or part-time basis.

Some also take retirees through workshops on managing their finances and personal lives. Those are the good employers.

Many just march you off with a small token of thanks for your dedication and leave you to fend for yourself.

I remember when I was thinking of early retirement I read about a study done by a big oil company that showed early retirees of all levels, areas of work and in good health who retired at age 55 and lived to over 65 had an over 35 per cent chance of dying before colleagues who stayed put till age 65. And even worse, the chances of early retirees kicking the bucket before age 65 were about 90 per cent. It really gave me cold feet. To go, or not to go? Just anecdotally, I have seen those facts played out among people I know. There is no question that the discipline and routine of work prolongs life and mental health.

Many advocate early retirement to get fresh young blood into organisations, which makes sense, except for the fact that middle-aged employees have a lot of experience that is very valuable.

Finding a way of capitalising on both of those elements is a question of good management. But it is an even more difficult matter for governments who must calculate the cost of lifelong pensions and looking after an ageing population when the birth rate is falling and therefore bringing on fewer taxpayers to contribute to the cost. We are lucky in TT to have a relatively large number of young people, but in countries such as Japan with one of the oldest populations in the world and a plummeting birth rate, they face the problem of how to keep the country functioning, especially when it is not a high migration country.

Our Government is focusing on fixing the slack tax collection system and introducing new taxes to cover the severe drop in national revenue now that the energy gravy train is stalling. It is well advised in doing so and I imagine it recognises that squaring the rights of the individual to decide when to retire with the need to keep people working for as long as fair and possible is important. In a state-run economy, such as ours, in which most people work for the Government and its agencies the Government will definitely want to maintain that great source of income tax revenue.

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