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Study reports: work longer, live longer

Widely reported across a range of media outlets, ranging from The Daily Express (UK), Fox News (US) and Australian Network News  a US academic study (based on a student’s masters thesis) hit the headlines in ‘proving’ that working longer means you live longer.

According to the Oregon State University website:

“The researchers found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11 percent lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle and health issues. Adults who described themselves as unhealthy were also likely to live longer if they kept working, the findings showed, which indicates that factors beyond health may affect post-retirement mortality.”

I have read the paper, which uses secondary data and presents some useful statistical analysis of different outcomes.  The paper itself also acknowledges that paid work might not be the only form of activity that impacts mortality  and other later life outcomes although this was not picked up in the news coverage.  My major criticism of the paper is that there is no discussion of what ‘retirement’ actually means in today’s workplaces.  We have seen a shift away from a sense of a watershed age between work and retirement, issues that are not discussed in the paper at all.  While there is a brief mention of pressures and stresses that relate to retirement as a transitional stage, there is little discussion of how and why this is changing.  Looking back at historical data about retirement might offer some useful insights but unpacking how retirement is changing and in what ways is essential if we are to look forward.


#Ageism #racism and #sexism claims at the New York Times

A number of UK papers are reporting that legal proceedings have been filed in New York alleging discrimination based on age, race, and gender at the New York Times. The story is covered here by The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Mirror.

What has clearly engaged the interest of the British press is that the CEO of the newspaper is Mark Thompson, the former Director-General of the BBC. Many will recall that during his time in office there were several allegations over the BBC’s treatment of older women including newsreader Moira Stewart, Countryfile’s Miriam O’Reilly and Strictly Come Dancing’s Arlene Phillips. Miriam O’Reilly successfully sued the BBC for ageism. Amid allegations that Thompson has exported his “misogynistic and ageist attitudes” to the US, he has been personally named as a defendant in the legal case, along with the paper’s parent company and his fellow executive Meredith Levien, the paper’s chief revenue officer.

We are given a certain amount of detail about the claims. The claimants in the legal proceedings are Ernestine Grant and Marjorie Walker. Both work in the New York Times’ advertising department and are black women in their early 60s. They claim that the New York Times has been “engaging in deplorable discrimination“. It is said that the company’s advertising directors, who have previously been a mix of races and ages, have become “increasingly younger and whiter”. The lawsuit is also quoted as alleging that: “Unbeknownst to the world at large, not only does the Times have an ideal customer (young, white, wealthy), but also an ideal staffer (young, white, unencumbered with a family) to draw that purported ideal customer”. The paper denies any wrongdoing.

The trend for working longer: Spotlight on New Zealand

We’ve blogged extensively on the trend towards working longer in the UK, following the abolition of mandatory retirement and the rise in state pension age. Today we focus on New Zealand, having spotted this item in the Bay of Plenty Times. The headline reports that ‘More [are] choosing to work past retirement age’ in New Zealand too.

It seems that New Zealand has the highest proportion of people 65 and older in the workforce among the 34 countries of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). The article quotes gerontologist Carole Gordon who has been studying the “silver economy” for 30 years as saying that people aged 50-plus are the biggest consumer group on the planet.

It also gives examples of people in their 70s working variously as a care worker, chef and running a consultancy business, with a suggestion that financial necessity (e.g. having a mortgage to pay off) is part (not necessarily all) of the reason for keeping working. There are echoes of initiatives we have seen in the UK such as promoting enterprise in later life (though the article thankfully avoids using the term ‘olderpreneur’ with its suggestion that enterpreneurs aren’t normally older people).

Ageing, fitness and work: A ‘good news’ follow-up story via @KevinFulthorpe

In March last year, we blogged about the case of Kevin Fulthorpe who was then an Army Reservist and sport and fitness lecturer at Cardiff and Vale College. He had been told that he couldn’t continue in post as a physical training instructor with the Army on reaching his 61st birthday. His fitness level wasn’t in doubt as he met the criteria for an Army physical training instructor 30 years his junior. At the time, we observed that chronological age-based decisions not to allow people like Kevin to remain in post – as well as being discriminatory – made it seem as if there was no incentive for older people to stay fit. We also noted that his super-fitness might be an advantage in getting other jobs. The story was covered by a number of regional and national newspapers in the UK and his case was taken up by Age Cymru.

Last Friday Kevin left an update comment on our blog post with some good news regarding his situation. He reports that he has beeen taken on by the Royal Air Force and for the last year has been responsible for training both regulars and reservists. The Wales Online website has covered his new role here.

This is fantastic news; we are really pleased to hear this. Many congratulations to Kevin (and good on the Royal Air Force too). How very satisfying to be able to share some good news on a Monday morning. It’s be good to think that other organizations might reflect on this story before making rules and decisions based solely on chronological age.

Doris Robert’s contribution to fighting age discrimination in Hollywood

Frequently our blog has highlighted issues of age/gender discrimination relate to the film and television industry.  It has been (yet another) week in which a number of high profile celebrities have sadly passed, indeed this has lead some to suggest 2016 is a “deadly year” for the famous.

While perhaps not as well or widely known in the UK, I though this editorial highlighting Doris Robert’s contribution to fighting age discrimination in Hollywood was worthy of a mention.  Covered more widely in the US press, Doris’s feisty reputation in questioning the lack of roles for older actors was well known and it is reported that she spoke at an actor’s union event as recently as March this year.  Let’s hope others will carry on her work.


What happens when age is enrolled in the CEO pay debate?

CEO and executive pay is unsurprisingly in the news again.  The bare figures and the percentage rises involved seem pretty shocking – as in this example of the McDonald’s CEO 368% increase!  While shareholders may reject such deals – as in the recent example of BP – these votes are often ‘non-binding’ and the ability of organisations to find ways around such votes seems to demonstrate just how innovate senior management can be when something really important (their own pay) is at stake.

However, from an age perspective I found the explanation (justification) offered by Sir Martin Sorrell warrants a bit more unpacking.  In this account in the Guardian underlying the ‘because I’m worth it’ claim, age and time spent at work are enrolled as part of this justification.  In neither the McDonalds or BP coverage (links above) have I seen mention of the CEO’s age as part of the justification but it does seem to crop up in the Sorrell case, though not in all coverage.  What does appear in most news coverage this morning is the justification that it has taken “over 30 years of sweat” to build WPP as a business incurring significant personal (one assumes financial) risk.  Now apart from the fact that I feel comparing marketing to manual labour is rather stretching the point of the toil involved, the implication here is that time spent in an organization should be rewarded.  Many individuals (albeit not at the level of Sorrell) make considerable trade-off for their employers in all sorts of ways, but very very few will see that rewarded further down the line should they stay in an organization as long as Sorrell.

What makes a happy nonagenarian? asks @Guardian

With the fast approaching 90th birthday of the Queen, it seems 90 is the new [insert other age here].  Much will no doubt be made of the fact that the Queen is yet to retire, and this article in the Guardian, looks at what makes a happy nonagenarian and perhaps unsurprisingly finds that wealth is a key contributor.  However overall the article reports that studies of the ‘older old’ are finding they are increasingly active (though perhaps not all are riding a horse like the Queen and other categories used in the research include more mundane activities such as ‘cutting toenails’).

The article is well worth a read and I particularly liked the discussion of exceptionalism.  Pointing out that the Queen and others such as “Patricia Routledge, still acting at 87, or Diana Athill, still writing at 98, all are treated as exceptions” in that work still features in their everyday activities.  The article goes on to quote Thomas Scharf, professor of social gerontology at Newcastle University: “Exceptionalism is itself a form of benevolent ageism.. It makes the very much older person who is active seem a breed apart, but they are only older versions of us…Older people are regarded as a burden on society, yet the evidence shows civic life is sustained by engaged, much older people“.


Changing expectations regarding retirement

Another day, another survey. Here, the Belfast Telegraph reports the results of a survey by Canada Life Group Insurance which found that overall, 67% of UK employees now expect to work beyond what used to be the traditional (male) retirement age of 65.  There were some age-based differences: 85% of those aged 21 to 30 expect to work beyond 65 whereas only 58% of 61 to 65-year-olds say they are likely to work beyond this age.  The reason for these (revised?) expectations is said to be the low interest rates that have prevailed over the last seven years. Of course we don’t know the details of the methodology of this survey but it’s interesting how often those conducted by financial institutions cite financial factors.

Meanwhile, Matt Flynn writing here for Business in the Community in his capacity as director of the Centre for Research into the Older Workforce at Newcastle University, reports on the results of another survey. This looked at the workplace experiences of those aged 50 plus and also asked about retirement intentions. Specifically the survey asked ‘At what age are you planning to retire and why have you chosen that age?’ He reports that planned retirement ages are indeed going up, having increased from an average of 62.4 a decade ago to 63.4 in 2010 to 65.1 now.  Interestingly, the explanation offered in this survey is that more people attribute this to wanting to work longer (48%) than in order to get a full pension (34%). Matt says they are still crunching the numbers on this survey so we look forward to seeing further analysis in due course.

Age discrimination: Spotlight on Jersey

The Channel Islands are of course subject to (often very) different legislation and government structures to the UK but I hadn’t realised until today that age discrimination in Jersey is not currently illegal.

According to this item in the Jersey Evening Post legislation is now being actively considered to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of age.  If adopted, this would cover recruitment, paid work, voluntary work, partnerships, professional bodies, education, training, public premises, clubs and associations.

Anti-discrimination legislation in Jersey certainly seems to lag behind the UK. It was only in September 2014 that the island introduced a law banning discrimination on the grounds of race. In 2015, discrimination on the grounds of gender was outlawed (which is some 40 years after the original Sex Discrimination Act 1975 in the UK, now subsumed under the Equality Act 2010).  And Jersey hasn’t yet got round to introducing protection against disability discrimination – this is apparently planned to happen in 2017 or 2018.

I’m not sure why they couldn’t introduce legislation to protect against discrimination on all these grounds together. Or indeed why it has taken so long to bring them in at all….. It reminds me a bit of the recent film Sufragette which after the credits showed a list of when various countries introduced universal female suffrage; there were some shocks, like Switzerland which was something like 1971.

We’re back and thinking about retirement (from a research perspective)

We’re back from our Easter break and we’ve been thinking about retirement. From a research (rather than a personal) perspective…

We spotted this item in The New India Express with the headline ‘Too Young to Retire, Too Old to Judge‘. It examines a recent application to the Indian Supreme Court to raise the retirement age of judges. Most interestingly, the author (who is a senior advocate in the Supreme Court) describes this as akin to asking a ‘body to decide on an additional benefit to themselves’ – in other words, that an increase in retirement age would represent a perk.

This goes to the heart of what is an extremely complex picture regarding retirement, not just in India but more widely, where some individuals would see the ability to carry on working if one wanted to as positive and others as negative. A lot depends on the type of work, the industry norms, personal financial status and individual (mental and physical) health  – to name but a few factors.

The article rehearses a number of arguments on both sides of this debate, set within the particular context of the Indian parliamentary and legal system. The debate (and some of the context) will be familiar with those who have been following similar discussions in the UK, including the importance of not conflating older chronological age with failing health, the changing nature of what is considered ‘old’ or indeed ‘young’ and the potential loss to society of those who can still contribute highly developed (here, professional) skills. In India, it seems that the Supreme Court has deferred ruling on this particular application on the grounds that the matter is governed by the Constitution. This provides for judges to retire at 65 (62 in the case of the high court). But more widely, I think this discussion still has quite a long way to run.


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