To retire — or not — is primarily a lifestyle choice, but one that also has implications for health.
The next president of the United States will either be age 69 (Hillary Clinton) or 70 (Donald Trump) upon assuming office next year and, if re-elected, either 77 or 78 upon leaving the presidency. Had Bernie Sanders not been shafted by the Democratic National Committee and had he gone on to win the presidency, he would have been 75 upon assuming office and ended his second term at 83.
The new hands-on CEO of Fox News is Rupert Murdoch, age 85, who replaces Roger Ailes, age 76, who resigned amid accusations of being inappropriately randy around female colleagues. Fox’s #1 star and money maker, Bill O’Reilly, age 66, in his spare time averages more than one New York Times bestseller a year and moonlights as executive producer on award-winning films for National Geographic and Fox.
Who needs to retire? Certainly not billionaires like Warren Buffett (85) and Carl Icahn (80), but neither do rapidly increasing numbers of the general public who now live fitter, longer and more productive lives and see no reason to be put out to pasture. In the early 1980s, a mere 10 per cent of the U.S. workforce over age 65 was working; today that number has doubled, to almost 20 per cent. Fewer than half who continue to work do so due to financial pressure; most continue at work out of choice, chiefly because they like their jobs or “want to stay involved.”
In the case of baby boomers, according to Gallup’s Employee Engagement studies, half plan to work past age 65; 10 per cent plan to never retire. Moreover, older boomers in the workforce tend to be more engaged in their work than younger workers. Far from resting on their laurels, says Gallup, people over 50 represent one of America’s fastest-growing groups of entrepreneurs, participants in what the U.S. Small Business Administration calls “encore” careers.
To retire — or not — is primarily a lifestyle choice, but one that also has implications for one’s health. Findings this week presented in Toronto by the Alzheimer’s Association indicate that jobs requiring mental engagement, particularly jobs such as teaching, social work, sales and law, that involve interacting with others, can dramatically lower the chance of acquiring Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. These results support those from France’s Bordeaux School of Public Health, which found that each additional year of work lowers the risk of dementia by 3.2 per cent. All told, according to Bordeaux’s director, “those who retired at 65 years old had a 14.6 per cent lower risk of getting dementia than those who retired at 60 years old.”
Numerous other studies indicate that work keeps us sound in body as well as in mind. A 2005 British Medical Journal analysis of Shell Oil employees found that 55-year-old retirees were 89 per cent likelier to die within 10 years of retirement than those who retired at 65. Early retirement especially harmed those below Shell’s managerial and professional rungs — skilled, semi-skilled, unskilled and clerical workers were 17 per cent likelier to die young.
Given the abundant evidence that work acts as a tonic, especially for those less affluent, why is the government so determined to consign people to the ranks of Canada Pension Plan retirees? Mandatory pension plans have never been well justified on economic grounds: This payroll tax sucks money away from young entrepreneurs who need investment capital and it raises labour costs for companies, slowing their growth and that of the overall economy. The chief justification for forced pensions is moral: the well-being of pensioners. But where’s the morality if pensions promote ill health? If the CPP is not only a job killer but an actual killer?
Rather than growing the CPP by requiring workers and employers to increase their contributions, the government should scrap the CPP through an orderly phase-out. Doing so would be healthy for the government’s coffers, too, through health-care savings and income taxes from all those non-retirees earning a paycheque. With that, the government could improve care for those who truly need it — those unfit to work, whether due to mental or physical disability, who are now poorly taken care of.
Work is empowering, needed by the poor at least as much as the rich to provide a sense of purpose and maintain their involvement in society. It took decades of lobbying before governments abolished mandatory retirement. May less lobbying be required for the abolition of its equally perverse corollary, mandatory retirement savings.