Ipsos Thinks

5.1 Increasing the years in our life and the life in our years
5.2 Home is where the smart tech is
5.3 Robots at home?
5.4 A pensions crisis
5.5 Radically reforming tax relief
5.6 Work and the over-55s
5.7 The value of work
5.8 Making work possible

Old age is like everything else, to make a success of it, you've got to start young.

People are living longer. And they’re living healthier lives for longer. This has profound implications for employment – how meaningful is a mandated retirement age when people can go on to live half their lives again after that point? How can employers adapt their working practices so that they can capitalise on this pool of experienced labour? What does this mean for young people trying to get on the career ladder?

It will also undoubtedly affect how – and where – people live. As people age, even if they are free of serious health conditions, they will need homes and communities which suit this phase of their lives. Underpinning this is the potential for change brought about by technology, which has the capacity to revolutionise both how elderly care is delivered and later life is experienced.

And, of course, the big question – how will we pay for it all?

Increasing the years in our life and the life in our years

While our lifespan has increased significantly, we need to also think about our healthspan – the number of healthy years that we live, where we are free from serious disease.

In the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, longevity in many western countries increased as a result of advances in medicines (such as the development of vaccines and antibiotics) and better standards of treatment. This helped to prevent common but fatal childhood diseases – smallpox, scarlet fever, measles (now making an unwelcome return) – and ensured that progress was made when treating infections; people still got ill, but they were more likely to recover and live their lives in good health. Nowadays though, increases in life expectancy come from advances in healthcare for those over the age of 60; rather than saving young people, we’re extending our old age.

In 1980, James F. Fries, now Professor Emeritus of Medicine at Stanford, developed the ‘compression of morbidity’ theory. This suggested that, as we extend our lifespan, we will be living healthier lives; the burden of illness will be compressed into a shorter period before death, and the age of onset of the first chronic infirmity delayed.178

The problem is, things haven’t really worked out like this; instead of a compression of morbidity, we’ve had an expansion. Take, for example, a study conducted by Eileen Crimmins, a researcher at the University of South Carolina who used data from the National Health Interview Survey to assess physical functioning – like walking a quarter of a mile, climbing ten stairs, standing or sitting for two hours, bending or kneeling without special equipment – in adults. As could be expected, the results show that as people age there is a progressive erosion of people’s physical abilities. What’s more, these results have gotten worse over time. In 1998 about 28% of American men aged 80 and above had a functional limitation, but in 2006 the figure had risen to 42%. For women, the results were even worse; by 2006 over half had a functional limitation. Crimmins’ conclusion was that there was an “increase in the life expectancy with disease and a decrease in the years without disease. The same is true for functioning loss, an increase in expected years unable to function”.179

On a much grander scale, the Global Burden of Disease Study was launched in 2010 by the Harvard School of Public Health, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and 300 other institutions worldwide. This study sought to provide a country-by-country analysis of health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE) – also known as healthy life expectancy i.e. the number of years people live for, and how healthy they are during these. Comparing HALE for 187 countries, in 1990 and 2010, the researchers found that while life expectancy has increased in 19 of 21 regions around the world, people are living their later years in poorer health.180

This matters because, first and foremost, healthspan is a quality of life issue. There is a clear link between the occurrence of serious health conditions and a decline in mental health; in the US, up to 15% of patients with cardiovascular disease and up to 20% of patients who have undergone coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery experience major depression.181

Secondly, it’s an equalities issue. We know that, in the UK for instance, adults in more deprived areas have a higher propensity to smoke, be overweight, have a poor diet and a lack of physical exercise.182 In more deprived areas there is also more binge drinking and a higher prevalence of diabetes and raised blood pressure.183 These inequalities are carried forward into later life; people from deprived areas tend to have a shorter life expectancy but also tend to get ill earlier in life as well.184

By 2025, there will be 2.8M people over the age of 65 in need of nursing and social care, largely because of the growing prevalence of dementia.

Thirdly, it’s about funding. Right now, approximately 5 million Americans over 65 have Alzheimer’s, including one in three over the age of 85. Further, disappointing news from laboratories where drugs trials designed to stall Alzheimer’s have failed to the extent that researchers are rethinking the whole disease paradigm that informed much of the research over the past few decades. Instead of a cure, scientists are now warning of a huge upsurge in dementia — an increase of around 300% in the number of older Americans with dementia by 2050. The figures from the UK make for equally grim reading. Research undertaken by the Lancet Public Health Medical Journal has found that, by 2025, there will be 2.8 million people over the age of 65 in need of nursing and social care, largely because of the growing prevalence of dementia.185

Moving more is key, as is building strength.

But there are things we can all do to improve our healthspan. It’s never too late to start making changes either; for individuals below 35, there is still time to maximise ‘peak’ health, but studies have demonstrated that even those in their 90s can improve their strength and training, and that significant benefits can be reaped from relatively small doses of physical activity.186 Moving more is key, as is building strength. But away from physical activity, there are a whole host of small changes that can work wonders for improving our healthspan. Staying connected with family and friends, volunteering, having a good diet and cognitive exercises (like learning a new skill) all have their part to play in increasing the amount of life we have in our years. Our recent Ipsos Global Advisor survey shows that there is a real desire among people to prepare for old age by staying healthy and maintaining a strong social network, and in fact many say they are already doing this.

It appears that preparing for a healthy later life is not just about changes, it may also be about encouraging people to keep doing what they already are! These findings are also reflected by recent work conducted by the Centre for Ageing Better.187

Home is where the smart tech is

Now that we are living longer, unhealthier lives also pose a challenge for how – and where – we live and who will care for us.

We know that, as people age, they tend to want to stay in their home. In his review of social care provision in the UK, Securing Good Care for Older People, Sir Derek Wanless, former advisor to the Labour Party, found that more than 60% would like to stay at home and receive care from friends and family, while 56% would like to stay at home with help from trained carers.188 This makes sense – it’s what people are used to – and is particularly pertinent as they age, given that older people spend around 80% of their time within their home. Their homes are also in communities that they’re familiar with and where they typically have strong social networks. Of course, it’s also where many memories have been made.

Home aids and adaptations have been able to play a significant role in helping to keep people in their homes for longer.189 Minor adaptations include things like hand rails, grabs rails, ramps, lighting improvements and equipment to open and closes curtains, windows and doors. More major adaptations include stair lifts, door widening, alterations to room layouts and bathroom alterations such as wet rooms and level access showers. Unfortunately, many people postpone securing adaptations that would help them due to negative associations. Adaptations may serve as a reminder that they are becoming increasingly vulnerable, and starting to lose independence. Moreover, the practical, clinical appearance of adaptations can also be off putting. Nevertheless, as evidenced by the Centre for Ageing Better,190 once adaptations are installed, they can have a life-changing impact. As well as reducing the risk of falls, and increasing mobility, adaptations also help people to feel more independent, more in control and, in some cases, enable people to increase their social participation.

While some aids and adaptations such as grab rails and stair lifts, have been used for many years to improve mobility within the home, technology continues to advance – opening up new and exciting possibilities. At the Georgia Institute of Technology campus in Atlanta there is a 5,000 square foot, three-storey home which, from the outside, looks like any other. Inside, however, it’s a living lab called Aware Home191 which seeks to explore how technological developments can improve how we live. For instance, the number one cause of fires in the homes of older US citizens is cooking equipment. In the Aware Home, the stove has been fitted with both a sensor and a large coloured light system that blinks to alert residents when the oven has been left on unattended. All very well if you’re in the same room, but what if you’re not? There’s also a photo frame placed by the front door which blinks and makes a noise to let you know that the stove is both unattended and has been left on.192

It means independence. I don't have to ask for help. I find it very hard to ask for help. I mean, everybody has got busy lives. They haven't got time to be bothering on with you. If you can manage yourself, then it's half the battle.

The hallway in the Aware Home has been equipped with gait-sensing technology which monitors and analyses how someone walks. This kind of information could be used to track someone’s health, and the data even analysed with an algorithm to alert a carer or family member if any potentially harmful changes emerge in the gait pattern. As Professor Elizabeth Mynatt, Executive Director of the Institute for People and Technology at Georgia Institute of Technology states: “To track how someone is doing … is very important. It’s important for the daughter who wants to know that her mom is doing OK. It’s important for someone who might need to respond to a health emergency, and it is important for health professionals who might need to see those slight declines or trends over time. Perhaps a person is less steady going up those steps than they were three months ago. That would be an important indicator to maybe make some changes in the house before a fall or something else occurs.”193

There are already a number of these technologies on the market. Most accessibly, FitBits and other kinds of pedometers can be used as a simple check-in device by family members or friends to check that ageing relatives are up and about and moving. LifeAssist Technologies has developed Reminder Rosie, a clock that allows users to record personalised messages and reminders that are broadcast at scheduled times in the home. These could be used as a speaking diary (remember the grandchildren are coming over for tea) or as a prompt to take essential medicines (remember to take two beta blocker tablets for your angina). There’s also MedMinder, a collection of automatic medication dispensers. These initially flash to remind users to take their medicines. They then beep. After that, they trigger a call. And, if still nothing, MedMinder notifies a family member or caregiver. There are more advances on the way. InirvReact (currently in Beta Testing), connects your stove to a sensor in your home and a smartphone app. The sensor then automatically turns the stove off if it stops detecting motion around the appliance after a long period of time. Your stove can also be turned off via your phone. Technology like this, as well as other future developments, clearly have the capacity to improve old age for a lot of people, but this view is not uniformly shared.

In a recent Ipsos Global Advisor survey on ageing, slightly over half (55%) of those surveyed globally believe that technological development has the capacity to improve old age for a lot of people. This is an opinion that does not vary much by age but, if anything, as people get older they are less likely to believe technology will be beneficial for them (57% of 16 to 24-year-olds vs 52% of 55 to 64-year-olds globally).

There is considerable variation in this from country to country with around eight in ten of those surveyed in China believing that technology will improve old age for a lot of people, which is significantly higher than elsewhere, with those in Brazil, Turkey and Argentina the next most likely agree with this. Those in Japan are at the opposite end of the spectrum with only four in ten believing that technology will help improve old age for a lot of people.

More than 60% would like to stay at home and receive care from friends and family, while 56% would like to stay at home with help from trained carers.

Robots at home?

Even though this kind of technology is just in its infancy, there are already successful case studies from around the world of robots being used to provide care to older people. In a 2016 study for the Design Museum in London, we found 22% of us look forward to robots at home to help with ageing. Take Pepper for instance. Pepper – a four-foot-tall approximation of a human being – was initially developed in Paris and is now manufactured and marketed by Japanese giant SoftBank Robotics. With a computer screen on his chest, he tells interactive stories, engages in basic conversation and performs everyday gestures all while “recognising the principal human emotions and adapting his behaviour to the mood of his interlocutor”.194 Pepper is already being put to work; he features in over 100 SoftBank Mobile phone shops in Japan, and is now being used in HSBC’s flagship Manhattan branch. But it’s his capacity to provide care to the elderly which is particularly worth noting.

Pepper helps care for and entertain residents at the Sin-tomi nursing home in Tokyo. He leads them through regular exercises and patrols the corridors at night looking out for unusual activity. About 20 other robot models are part of this same initiative in Japan. There’s Tree, a mobile screen which assists with walking, and Paro, a cuddly seal designed to sooth and engage people with Alzheimer’s and other mental health conditions. Paro recognises temperature, posture and light. If you speak to Paro, or give it praise, it will respond. The therapeutic results have, so far, been impressive. Dr Simon Davies, a staff psychiatrist and clinical scientist at Canada’s Center for Addiction and Mental Health, has stated that “we’re already finding that, for some difficult cases of depression, this could be a catalyst that helps people move on and get back to their healthy state”. Japan’s next research priorities include wearable mobility aid devices and technology that guides people to the toilet at what it predicts is the right time.195

22% of us look forward to robots at home to help with ageing.

In the US, the Dinsow elder care robot from CT Asia Robotics acts as a kind of personal assistant. It helps people to remember to take their pills, tracks their health and automatically answers incoming calls from family and doctors. There’s even a Dinsow Mini, released in 2015, small enough to live on someone’s bedside table. Similarly, there’s the EllieQ. This is an interactive robot with an integrated tablet. It tracks its users’ medication patterns, and connects them to family, friends and carers via video calls and social media. It is also – crucially – a companion. It checks the weather and suggests appropriate activities and it also learns what its user likes to do so it can tailor these with time.196

In Germany, the Care-o-bot from Fraunhofer IPA has been deployed in a number of assisted living facilities across the country. The Care-o-bot delivers food and drinks to residents, and keeps them entertained by playing memory games. What’s more, Dr Ulrich Reiser, Project and Group Leader at Fraunhofer IPA notes that the Care-o-bot has been “programmed to behave like a gentleman”197 in order to silence any doubts that might exist about the suitability of a robotic carer. Closer to home, Pepper has been trialled in care homes in Southend, Essex. In 2015, Lincoln University announced its participation in an international initiative that involved ‘Linda’ – a device designed to improve the mood of people in care homes.

While there are obvious ethical quandaries that we need to grapple with, we must work from the starting point that this technology has the capacity to positively transform the lives of older people, helping them live longer safely and independently in their own homes.198 What’s more, contrary to what we might assume, there is evidence that this is something at least some older people are receptive to as well, especially when used in combination with human caregivers. Back in the Aware Home, Professor Mynatt concludes that while robotics are not a silver bullet when it comes to care for the elderly, they have the potential to make a huge contribution: “Older people value the security and the safety that the technology provides for them. When we’ve talked to older adults about robots that could help them in the home, they’ll tell us that they would rather have a robot than a human caregiver in some cases, because robots don’t gossip. They don’t look through their things. Robots don’t judge. So, if a robot could help them day in and day out, and a human could come in as needed, then they would love that combination.”

Older people value the security and the safety that technology provides for them.

In fact, the resistance might come from caregivers themselves. Dr Hirohisa Hirukawa, director of robot innovation research at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, has stated that, currently, cost prohibits the extensive use of robots when providing care for the elderly. But attitudinal barriers exist as well, particularly “the mindset by the people on the frontline of caregiving that after all it must be human beings who provide this kind of care”.199 When it comes down to it though, we might not have any choice when it comes to who provides our care.

Japan is predicted to have a shortfall of 370,000 carers by 2025. The UK is already grappling with a shortage of 90,000 carers; once Brexit restricts free movement of people this figure is set to rise to nearly 400,000 by 2026.200 Over in the US, evidence suggests that by 2020 there will be a national shortage of 151,000 paid care workers, and 3.8 million unpaid family caregivers. By 2040, these figures will have risen to 355,000 paid workers and 11 million unpaid carers.201

As with more traditional adaptations, part of the challenge, therefore, is to ensure that by the time we need robo-carers, we accept them and are comfortable with them. There will be some hurdles here; in a recent global survey of attitudes towards healthcare, we found that there are a number of barriers to using even the most basic of connected health devices.202 Cost is the most prevalent issue raised around the world, but a lack of knowledge, a lack of interest and concerns about privacy also come to the fore.

Japan is working on this; the government’s robotic strategy is that, by 2020, four in five care recipients would accept having some support provided by robots.203 The rest of us need to do likewise, and soon.

It's not the load that breaks you down but the way you carry it.

A pensions crisis

We are in the midst of a global pensions crisis. Pensions systems designed under very different socio-economic and demographic conditions are no longer fit for purpose. To illustrate, in the UK, the pension system has not really altered (with the exception of the introduction of auto enrolment) since the implementation of the 1946 National Insurance Act designed by Sir William Beveridge. In return for 4s and 1d a week, workers received benefits from the state including an old age pension paid at a flat rate from 65 for men and 60 for women. The thing is though, back then life expectancy for men was just 66.4 years and, for women, 71.5,204 meaning that, on average, people would only claim their new state benefits for a few years before reaching the end of their life.

The UK is far from being the only country with an unsustainable pensions system.

51% say that we should save enough for an adequate pension to help prepare for old age vs 28% who say that they are preparing for old age by actually doing this.

One way out of this mess is that we all need to start saving more for our retirement. Findings from our recent Ipsos Global Advisor study do suggest that, globally, there is at least some desire to save enough money for an adequate pension, even if this not borne out in reality (51% say that we should save enough for an adequate pension to help prepare for old age vs 28% who say that they are preparing for old age by actually doing this). If the desire for saving for retirement is there, is there anything wrong with nudging people in the right direction with a bit of reform?

There have been various policies introduced to help with this. In the UK, for instance, the introduction of automatic enrolment in 2012 has transformed the number of people saving for later life. Back then, the percentage of eligible private sector workers participating in a workplace pension was just 42%. Figures now suggest this proportion has near enough doubled to 81%. Young people, in particular, have benefited from this policy; before 2012 only a quarter of those working in the private sector aged 22-29 saved for their retirement. The figure has now risen to 77%.205 Of course, given the design of this particular policy – qualifying employees are automatically enrolled into a workplace pension and have to opt-out if they do not want to financially contribute – it’s hard to determine whether the British public are enthusiastically taking up this opportunity to save or, rather, are benefitting from their own inertia. What’s more, that more people are saving for their retirement is a good start – and the next step is for people to engage with how much they have saved, and ideally increase their contributions over time, to ensure they have a sufficient income in retirement.

'myopia' - whereby people have a lack of foresight in relation to future events - reduces the willingness of individuals to save for retirement.

In Australia, pension reforms have ‘baked saving into the psyche’.206 The superannuation guarantee has, for 25 years, forced qualifying workers to save into a ‘super’, or retirement account. Current contribution rates for employees stand at 9.5%, and they are able to exercise choice about where their money is invested, which has created a highly competitive market place; newspapers regularly feature league tables of the best performing supers and features on which offer a return of over 10% net of investment fees.

But these changes, while a step in the right direction, are not enough – radical reform is what is needed. One such potential solution is automatic escalation. The evidence suggests that ‘myopia’ – whereby people have a lack of foresight in relation to future events – reduces the willingness of individuals to save for retirement.207 One potential mechanism for increasing levels of saving for retirement is ‘automatic escalation’. This involves ‘nudging’ people into saving more for retirement by linking increases in pay to increases in employee pension contributions. Automatic escalation builds on ‘Save More Tomorrow’™, a scheme in the United States developed by behavioural economists Shlomo Benartzi and Richard Thaler. Participants in the scheme sign an agreement that their contributions will increase when they get an increase in salary. The scheme works partly because it frames saving around something positive – a pay rise. It has achieved remarkable outcomes in trials. In the firms where it was tested, 78% of employees signed up and 80% were still in the plan after their fourth pay rise. Average savings rates rose from 3.5% to 13.6% over 40 months. We have found that, in the UK at least, there is support for measures such as this, especially amongst those from higher social grades (a proxy for higher incomes).208

 

Radically reforming tax relief

One of the principal levers the state has to encourage saving is using tax allowances. The Pensions Policy Institute209 estimated that, although basic rate taxpayers in the UK make 50% of the total pension contributions, they benefit from only 30% of the pension tax relief. In contrast, higher rate taxpayers make 40% of the total contributions and receive 50% of the pension tax relief, while the highest rate taxpayers make 10% of the total contributions and receive 20% of the pension tax relief. This current distribution of relief is inefficient as an incentive. Higher earners display a higher marginal propensity to save than lower earners, irrespective of tax relief. As such, £1 of tax relief spent on a lower earner is likely to alter savings behaviour more markedly than £1 spent on a higher earner.

In our survey of the British public, we found that only a quarter objected to reforming tax relief so that it is redistributed in favour of lower earners. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most opposition came from those from higher social grades who would be more likely to lose out should such a policy come into force; 31% of those in the highest social grade (AB) opposed it compared with only 19% of people in the lowest social grade (DE).210

Other necessary changes to pensions policy could involve more flexibility about how and when people draw down their retirement funds. Reforms in the UK have already edged us closer to this.

In 2014, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, changed legislation to allow pensioners to cash in their savings, with one pensions minister suggesting that if they wanted to do that and blow their life’s savings on a Lamborghini, then that would be just fine. The financial services market responded quickly to these new pension freedoms; Scottish Widows, like most other large providers, expanded its product range to include a simplified, direct-to-consumer flexi-access drawdown product which, as of 2016, had been used by more than 10,000 customers. ’Flexi access’ drawdown was the biggest growth area for pension provider Aegon, which says assets moving into this option jumped 88% in the year to the end of 2015.211 As the drawdown option moved into the financial mainstream we saw the rise of the DIY silver investor, aided by providers’ development of tools to help people manage their own drawdown accounts, including life expectancy calculators.

But further flexibility may still need to be built into the pensions system, if these products are going to continue to be sustainable as later life changes.

But further flexibility may still need to be built into the pensions system, if these types of product are going to continue to be sustainable as later life changes. For instance, we asked people in Britain whether they would support or oppose being able to access their pension fund before the age of 55, as per the current legislation. Two in five (41%) were receptive to this, while a third (33%) remained opposed. There were higher levels of support among those from lower social grades (46% of DEs supported this compared to 36% of ABs).212 This may reflect the greater financial precarity this group faces, and the lower levels of resilience they have to deal with financial shocks. As such, the ability to draw down their pension funds at any time could well be useful. On the other hand, it is worth considering the drawbacks to this kind of flexibility. As noted earlier, younger age groups tend to significantly underestimate how much money they will need in later life, so they may not fully appreciate the impact of drawing down their pensions early. Further, while the ability to access their pensions so as to smooth their finances might be useful, it could also leave those in lower social classes less able to both take and enjoy retirement.

Work and the over-55s

People are living longer, healthier lives, and these changes offer a greater array of choices about how long to work for, and at what. There are signs that these changes are already starting to take hold. The UK’s workforce is certainly greyer than it was a few years ago: in the last 15 years, the number of working people aged 50 to 64 has increased by 60% to 8 million (far greater than the increase in the population over 50). The proportion of people aged 70-74 in employment, meanwhile, has almost doubled in the past 10 years.213

This trend is evident in other countries with ageing populations too. In Japan, over three in ten men and more than 15% of women aged over 65 are still in employment – a total of around 7.3 million people.214 In the US, older people are the fastest-growing segment of the US workforce. One in five workers today is 55 or older; by 2024, that number will be one in four, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).215

There are multiple drivers of this trend. That, simply, we can work for longer is one. The shift in the kind of things we do for a living has helped with this; the retail and service sector has, for instance, grown at the expense of manufacturing. Now our jobs tend to be more sedentary, with better working conditions, so it’s often possible for us to work into our later years without too much difficulty.

In Japan, over three in ten men and more than 15% of women aged over 65 are still in employment - a total of around 7.3 Million people.

Financial necessity is another reason why people are staying in employment for longer – people simply can’t afford to retire. As could be expected, those on lower incomes are much less likely to save for retirement – in the UK, the situation is particularly marked for those earning under £10,000 per year.216 What’s more, automatic enrolment will only partially affect this balance; certain sectors may experience much higher opt-out rates than others (e.g. because of contractual arrangements and fluidity of labour), thus exacerbating inequalities,217 while those who are self-employed are not covered either. There is also the issue of in-work poverty; according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, one in eight workers in the UK are in poverty (defined as below 60% of median equivalised household income) and, once inflation is taken into account, average workers are earning £25 less per week than they were less than a decade ago.218 The nub of this is that if you can’t afford to live now, then you certainly can’t afford to save for retirement. Generational differences also come into play in answering the question about why people are now staying in employment for longer. Again, looking to the UK, if we take the private sector as an example, earlier generations were typically enrolled into more generous defined benefit schemes, while younger generations have joined defined contribution ones. While workers in the public sector often remain on defined benefit schemes, these have got less financially attractive over time. Younger generations have also been exposed to higher external costs. For instance, higher university tuition fees have increased debt levels among those currently in their early 20s, while rising house prices mean that younger people have to save more for a down-payment – both of which place a block on them saving for later life.219

 

The value of work

While there are undoubtedly push factors for why more people are working longer, it is important to remember that there are pull factors too. Prime among these is that people want to work.

In qualitative work we have undertaken, people have spoken to us at length about the value they derive from being in work. It gives them a sense of purpose and pride – they know that they are providing for themselves as well as making a contribution to society. The social benefits of employment should also not be underestimated; the participants value work as a form of contact with a wide range of people – of different ages and backgrounds – that otherwise they would not get to meet. As one participant said: “You’re contributing to society. You’ve got a goal and the goal is to get up and mix with people and help to keep the country going in your own small way”.220

 

Making work possible

If people want to – and have to – stay in work longer, then fundamental changes need to be made in our workplaces. As Baroness Altman, a pensions expert, stated: ”As a society, in recent decades, we have made great strides for working mothers in the workplace. The work environment for women after childbirth is vastly different nowadays compared to forty years ago. I believe we will see a similar radical change in opportunities for older workers too in the coming years.”221

Flexibility will be key. In the UK, currently all employees have the right to request flexible working patterns – but employers don’t have to grant them. What’s more, in our discussions with participants we found that they had little faith in employers to put the necessary measures in place to enable them to work later in life. This therefore explains the high level of support – around three in five – for the policy suggestion of giving workers over the age of 60 the automatic right to demand flexible working patterns. A similar proportion supported this group’s right to demand part time work. While there was less support for this suggestion, one in four (26%) supported positive discrimination in favour of older people when applying for job vacancies.

Adaptions – like large screens to accommodate those with failing eyesight – and improved training to empower older workers to take the necessary steps to extend their career will also be necessary. But we would also do well to look to those economies already grappling with these issues to see what we can learn. Japan and Germany are ‘super-aged’ i.e. more than one in five of their population is aged over 65. Both countries – as well as Singapore, who will be super-aged by 2030 – have made radical (and not necessarily palatable) changes to accommodate the challenge of older workers.

There are more older adults alive right now than in all of human history combined. Older adults are the only increasing natural resource in the world.

One reason why the proportion of older workers in Japan is growing is due to pension reforms; the age at which someone can receive a pension from the state has risen from 60 to 62, and will increase to 65 in 2025. But another is that the Japanese government now requires companies to employ their workers past the age of 65 if they want to keep on working. The catch, however, is that these workers still have to technically retire at 60 but then may return to work under a ‘continuous employment’ basis at a much lower salary. To illustrate, Japanese salaries at age 61 are about a quarter less than before that same worker turned 60. A public-private partnership, Silver Center Workshops, also helps retirees find part-time jobs. Again though, the jobs are low paying (roughly US$400-500 per month) and low skilled (like housekeeping, bike repair and park maintenance).222

Germany is also trying to help people stay in work for longer. This is partly being achieved via legislative change; the retirement age was 62 in 2012 and will be 67 by 2029. In addition to this, there have been efforts made to think about how older people can best contribute while in employment. This is where ‘Initiative 50 Plus’ comes in. It provides training and lifelong learning to older people. Older workers who then accept positions with lower salaries get a temporary subsidy for doing so.

In singapore, employers must now offer re-employment contracts to employees at 62, which are then renewed annually until the age of 67

In Singapore, the government has developed a 70-item initiative to make the country ‘a nation for all ages’. This incorporates legislation; employers must now, with very few exceptions, offer re-employment contracts to employees at 62, which are then renewed annually until the age of 67. If an employer can’t do this, then it must either transfer this obligation to another company or pay a one-off assistance payment. But if it can accommodate you, then your entire role – the responsibilities you undertake and the salary you are paid – is up for review. Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania states that, in implementing these changes, Singapore is essentially telling its older workers: “You want to keep working? OK, but you can’t just be the boss because you’re older”.223

But these changes really need to be just the start. As Dr. Linda Fried, a geriatrician who is also the Dean of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, puts it: “There are more older adults alive right now than in all of human history combined. Older adults are the only increasing natural resource in the world — the only one!”224 And in a world of scarcity, we need to make the most of what resources we have.

The Perennials: The Future of Ageing

This report looks at our ageing societies and their challenges and opportunities. The media have obsessed about ‘Millennials’ as disruptors, but in fact ageing – which will affect every generation – is having even larger effects. Rising life expectancy and falling birth rates mean populations around the world are getting older. It is portrayed as a ’narrative of decline’ – not a time of opportunity and change.