Why are older people not more “active”?

Bernard H Casey


This paper considers the extent to which the objective of “active ageing” is
currently being met and obstacles to its realisation.

It shows how most transitions from work to retirement are abrupt. Despite much
advocacy by social gerontologists of the merits of a gradual withdrawal from
working life, the incidence of transitions from full-time to part-time work, or from
dependent- to self-employment, is low. Measures designed to promote gradual
retirement have largely failed. This is a consequence of employer resistance and
employee reluctance. But it is also the consequence of competition from schemes
offering full early retirement and of provisions in pension regulations that
disadvantage partial retirees. Moreover, once people cease paid employment, their
lives tend to be relatively passive. They do not take on new activities, such as
voluntary work, nor do they engage in active leisure activities.

The paper draws on data on recent trends from labour force surveys and time-use
surveys – using both to track “quasi-cohorts” as they pass through the later stages
of their working lives and into the initial stages of retirement. It also examines
government policies in a variety of OECD countries that have been designed to
promote more gradual retirement and assess the reasons why, to date, these
have largely been unsuccessful.

The paper concludes with proposals about how pensions policy (public and private)
might be adapted to encourage longer, if more flexible, employment in older age.
It points out how increasing demands for “elder care” are, by themselves, likely
to put increasing pressure both on the need for older people to adapt their working
practices, and for employers to accommodate them in this. Lastly, it indicates how
other barriers to “active retirement” might be overcome.

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