With the incredibly sad but not unexpected news of the death of Nelson Mandela at the age of 95, we will undoubtedly see his legacy reviewed in detail over the coming days, months and indeed years.
It was my 16 yr old son that rushed to tell me the news, while I also received a text from my 19 yr old daughter to see if I had heard. That they realised the significance of the news is testament to the legacy of a man that went beyond his, and our, age. While my memories are of the campaigns of the 1980′s, particularly since I was studying Geography and South Africa at the time, my children’s memories of Mandela as President and statesman are no less significant. Others will recall Mandela’s younger days, as indeed has been a feature of the news stories so far.
Some theorists suggest that different generational cohorts are invested with common traits and values by virtue of shared experiences of a socio-cultural environment within a particular historical context. However here we seem to have an instance of a historical event that will impact us all, albeit differently, not least since here in the UK we are removed from the ramifications for South African politics. However, it seems clear that you do not need to be young or old, or belong to a particular generation, to engage with the legacy of Nelson Mandela.
While the full ramifications of the Chancellor’s Autumn statement be mulled over in more depth in this evening’s news and tomorrow’s papers, the BBC are highlighting the headlines to date. These include a number of key age related announcements:
The state pension age is to increase to 68 in the mid-2030s and to 69 in the late 2040s. This follows on from recent rises (to 66 by 2020 and 67 by 2028) and is earlier than expected. See also this piece in the independent which reviews these implications and highlights that the government plans to revisit the state pension age every five years and review in light of changing estimates of life expectancy (see our previous post on the missing elderly for context).
Employer National Insurance contributions are to be scrapped on 1.5 million jobs for young people (I believe this is under-21′s). At the same time Anyone aged 18 to 21 claiming benefits without basic English or Maths will be required to undertake training from day one or lose their entitlement.
There are additional points regarding increases in both university places and apprenticeships, though these are not always directly age-related they are often seen as a means of addressing youth unemployment.
We will be watching the press tomorrow for reactions to these and other announcements.
Our pick of the age related statistics around the web today:
1. 63% of people think the government will not provide the majority of their retirement income. Source: AXA survey reported in Financial Reporter
2. 80% of over 60-year-olds believe they have been rejected for a job because of their age Source: total jobs survey reported in Express and Star
3. Among 18–24-year-olds, 42% of employees use social media for work to some extent and three in ten (28%) do so at least weekly Source: CIPD
4. 65% of 18 to 24-year-olds would rather have the money instead of a Christmas do. Source: Cambridge News
5. Number of over-75s being caught drinking and driving up 20% Source: Daily Mail
This piece in the FT by Lucy Kellaway reflects on the issue of asking, and of being asked, How old are you? Lucy (54 1/2) considers the issue of whether the different genders react differently to the question of age. There is some interesting anecdotal evidence reported including the idea that suddenly people stop asking except under specific circumstances: she suggests ”The only people in their thirties who still get asked have either been wildly successful (I know someone of 32 with a board position who gets asked her age a lot) or pregnant women, who are asked by other women anxious about their own dwindling fertility”.
This is of course not based on particularly robust research (other than asking around the office). I can think of several instances of having been asked my age both directly (and indirectly via my dob) recently and I am neither wildly successful or pregnant! However, it is interesting to reflect, as Lucy does, on what is inferred by asking someone’s age. For instance, she suggests “If nothing else, their age gives you a clue about their taste in pop music“. Which does make me wonder if that is the aim, why not simply ask “what is your taste in pop music”. The issue at stake here is what we assume age tells us, how we regard age as a proxy for many other things and the extent to which it is seen as a neutral fact that should be easy to ask and freely given.
Reading the comments posted for the article, one reader suggested always reporting your age as a percentage based on your life expectancy. I warmed to this idea except that somehow 54.2% sounds older than 47 11/12!
While this is not a new story, I felt that the BBC’s review of the ‘gap’ between UK and US census data and life-expectancy predictions was worth revisiting. Summarised on the BBC and reported in the Actuary by Richard Wilets (who has the fab title of “Director of Longevity” previously at Friends Life and now I believe at Partnership).
Both pieces really attempt to get underneath the statistics around population ageing and life expectancy, with the piece in the Actuary providing a useful overview of how the census figures are used to review population predictions.
Essentially the crux of the story is that 2011 census data identified 30,000 fewer people aged in their 90s than expected, which in relative terms it represents a reduction of around 15%. Given the smaller numbers of people involved, one issue here is that a relatively small change or a discrepancy in ‘actual’ numbers, can have a big knock on effect. These reports suggest that data previously used (from 2001) to predict increases in life expectancy seems to have been over optimistic. The BBC reports similar concerns regarding predictions in the US. Given the on-going debate about the demographic “time-bomb” this shows the importance of looking beneath the summary level statistics and of continually reviewing and revisiting predictions.
The Professional Pensions website, part of an industry which often comments on age / work related matters, conducted a poll to guage attitudes to the assertion that ‘older workers should have their hours cut to help the young’.
As reported here, just over half of participants agreed, saying that employers should be able to cut older employees’ hours to help recruit apprentices. About a third of participants said they shouldn’t.
The poll highlights the commonly held ‘lump of labour fallacy’ which presupposes that there is a fixed amount of work to be done. In the context of debates which pitch old against young in respect of entitlement to work, the rationale for removing older workers is that this will lead to more jobs being made available to younger workers.
The article reports that those who expressed this view in the poll qualified their responses by offering ways to alleviate the negative impact this would have on older workers. Interestingly, this included finding other ways for these people to ‘be active’ – very much a central tenet of the successful / productive ageing concepts. Others are reported as saying that such a proposal was “ageism by another name“.
Summing up the dilemma, one contributor said: “Society cannot have it both ways. The current message is expect to carry on working into your late sixties or early seventies as the state pension age moves out and yet older workers remain a target perceived either as an expensive resource or as a drag on recruitment.“
We’ve blogged before on the effects on unemployment, particularly in the context of young people where being out of work is said to have long-term ‘scarring’ effects; we commented that there is never a good age to be out of work.
So we were interested to see this research by Dr Leena Ala-Mursula (University of Oulu, Finland) and colleagues published last week in PLOS One. The team used members of the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966 study, a group of men and women (they’re currently about 47 years old) who have been studied as part of an exploration of the genetic and environmental factors affecting morbidity, disease markers and social well-being throughout the life-course.
Whilst there’s been research associating long-term unemployment with ill health, this is the first study to show the effect of long-term unemployment at a cellular level. The researchers looked at telomere length in blood cells from samples collected in 1997, when the participants were aged 31. Compared to men who were continuously employed, men who had been unemployed for more than two of the preceding three years were found to be more than twice as likely to have short telomeres. This is a sign of faster ageing in their DNA.
The analysis accounted for other social, biological and behavioural factors that could have affected the result. This helps to rule out the possibility that short telomeres were linked to medical conditions that prevented the participants from working.
The trend was not seen in women. This may be because fewer women than men in the study were unemployed for long periods in their 30s. Whether long-term unemployment is more harmful for men than women later in life needs to be addressed in future studies.
With the recent return of Danish hit political drama Borgen to UK television screens, we bring you this item from The Copenhagen Post on the subject of age discrimination in the Danish labour market.
The Copenhagen Post is an English language print and online news service in Denmark. Here it reports on a YouGov poll commissioned by Ældre Sagen, a senior citizens’ lobby group.
According to the survey, more than a quarter of Danish people over 60 who retire do so unwillingly. Some felt that the opportunities for older workers are so limited that people feel compelled to simply withdraw from the labour market. Only one third said they stopped working due to health reasons.
This is against a background in which the Danish government continues to say that everyone should count on working longer, but this doesn’t seem to be happening: only 12% of those aged 65 to 70 are working and 26% say they are interested in finding a job but had stopped looking.
“The figures could indicate that we still think that people should retire at 65, regardless of whether they can keep working or not,” Mona Larsen, the head of SFI, a social welfare research institute, is reported as saying.
So it seems that the UK and Denmark may have more in common than an interest in the workings of coalition government.
We haven’t been able to find the original research quoted, but yesterday’s Telegraph reported here that those aged 45 and over are most likely to have seen their pay frozen during the economic downturn.
The article cites a study by the financial group MetLife UK as the source of this information. Claire Oldstein, advertising and marketing director of Metlife Uk, is quoted as saying: “Pay freezes are a regrettable reality for many employees and will have an influence on preserving for retirement, notably for older workers.”
Apparently, the MetLife study found that overall 26% of respondents had not received a pay rise in the last 3 years. Interesting, the (corresponding?) figure of 18% of all workers was given in this piece on the Employee Benefits website when reporting the same MetLife study. Which is why it would have been useful to have been able to find the original research…
However, both articles report that the percentage of those with frozen pay is higher for those aged 45 to 54 (34%) and those over 55 (33%) than for younger age groups.
As reported in the Daily Record, David Dalziel, aged 62 and a former fire chief, is suing the fire brigade for alleged age discrimination after missing out on the top job at Scotland’s new single fire service (formed from a merger of 8 previously separate services). He is also claiming constructive dismissal on the basis that he was forced to resign having been overlooked for other key roles within the fire service because of his age.
The hearing is due to start before a tribunal in Aberdeen next month and is expected to last five days.
Of course, fire fighters in England have been in the news recently – this relates to the ongoing dispute about the Government plan to raise their retirement age from 55 to 60 at which point firefighters would have to pass a fitness test.
It’s an interesting age at work example, bucking the trend of other occupations where workers are trying to increase their retirement age.