Simran Gill and Jeremy Sy write:
More so than in the West, people in Asia have traditionally counted on a quiet, leisurely retirement as the final chapter of their lives. They could depend on their retirement because it was guaranteed by their families, not the state: Older people in Asia traditionally relied on their children to provide for their needs in their older years. Their retirement from work also had value to both their families and to society: Once retired, elderly Asians assumed the role of community elders, dispensing advice to both younger members of their families, or those following in their career footsteps.
Increasingly, however, changes in Asia’s macro environment are making people throughout the region question both the feasibility and attractiveness of retirement – at least, in its conventional sense.
Asia is ageing fast. Japan’s old age dependency ratio is already the highest in the world at 41%, and is set to hit 74% by 2050, if present assumptions about work and retirement also continue. This means that unless retirement is re-considered, there will be three people aged 65 and above for every four still in the workforce. Other large countries in the region, while nowhere near Japan’s figure, will see major increases in their old age dependency ratios too: China’s is expected to increase from 12% today to 39% in 2050, while India’s is expected to increase from 8% to 22%.
With the rising cost of living and increasing life expectancies – which means that elderly people need to be supported for more years than many families are prepared for — retirement has become an option that is unaffordable for many. Not surprisingly, half of Asian adults (those age 25+) want the official retirement ages in their respective countries to rise from the current 60-65 range. This is not just young people wanting to ease the pressure of supporting the elderly in their retirement: The Futures Company’s Global MONITOR research finds that 63% of Asians aged 50+ believe that as their life expectancy increases, they should expect to have to work to a later age.
People in Asia aren’t just living longer – they’re staying healthier for longer too. Consequently, while traditional retirement becomes increasingly difficult for many, it’s also becoming less necessary. With advances in health care and the wide availability of all kinds of wellness products, 64% of Asians aged 50 and above feel that there is no reason to feel less vital and energetic as one gets older (data from our Global MONITOR survey). Working past the regular retirement age is slowly becoming the norm: in addition to earning extra income, older Asians feel that they enjoy a higher quality of life due to their active engagement in the workplace and community.
Older people in Asia have an array of options, when deciding what to do in their ‘non-retirement’. Sixty per cent expect to work either full-time or part-time past the age of 65. However, since 65% of Asians aged 50 and older believe that they have to get used to slowing down and doing less, according to Global MONITOR, many are taking the option of “retiring” from their regular careers and embarking on a second career – usually one that’s less pressurized and better aligned with their personal interests. For many, this means picking up new skills or turning to hobbies that they’ve always been interested in but never had the time to indulge — such as cooking particular cuisines, flower-arrangement, candle- or soap-making, photography, etc. – and finding ways of making money from those interests.
Alternatively, some older Asians are finding ways to make a living out of their traditional retirement roles. They are teaching courses on life-skills at community centres, giving tuition classes to young students, or mentoring younger executives, and are able to experience a bit of the honor that comes with “traditional retirement” while continuing to be financially productive.
The image at the top of this post is a Creative Commons image via Wikimedia, and is used with thanks. This is the fourth in our series of myths about ageing in Asia.