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Where to from here? The dilemma of structural lag

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Where to from here? The dilemma of structural lag

Aspiring retirees want to stop working, but they need to fund themselves. They need to contribute economically but they should not take jobs from the following generations. JUDY RAFFERTY discusses the conundrum facing older Australians.

The expectations and lived experience of retirement has changed.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, men can expect to live, on average, to 84 years of age and women to 87.

Governments, as we know, are counting heads and counting dollars and they do not match – too many of one and not enough of the other.

Individuals are counting years and counting dollars and wondering how to make them match.

People who started their working lives at age 15 and completed their working lives at age 65, will have worked for 50 years.

Their earnings from 50 years of work will need to support them for another 20 years, approximately.

Both the government and the individual recognise that this is a challenge. This concern is one reason why the government is keen to raise the age of eligibility for the age pension.

The age pension continues to supplement the income of 65 per cent of retirees.

And perhaps it is also a reason why the over-63 cohort is the fastest growing category of workers in Australia.

Gerontologist Matilda White Riley contributed a great deal to our understanding of the retirement dilemma.

She wrote of age and structural lag. This lag refers to the idea that lives have changed, but social structures have not caught up.

She argued that social institutions, public policies and cultural understandings are resistant to change whereas demographic, social and economic conditions change rapidly.

This is the case for those of retirement age and the institution of retirement. It means that the notion of, and act of, retirement is full of contradiction.

Retirees may need and want to work but an ageist society makes this difficult. There is no paradigm for people who want to retire in some way but also want to continue to work.

Structural lag means the message for the retirees is that they need to retire but they need to fund themselves.

Another message is that they need to contribute economically but not take up jobs needed by younger people.

It leads to confusion and a loss of confidence in how to move forward. Undoubtedly many who are ready to retire are caught in this lag.

There is no easy answer to the problem of structural lag.

Perhaps, rather than going quietly into the twilight, current and soon-to-be retirees will actively push for change and for flexible work opportunities that make space for the older worker.

Judy Rafferty is the author of Retirement Your Way, A Practical Guide to Knowing What You Want and How to Get It, at all good bookshops and online.

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