Since 2012, there has been a reported 5.5% increase in the number of women working past the age of seventy. The social assumption of this is that these women are forced - either by circumstance the current lack of defined and coherent legislation for flexible working hours - to remain at work or return to low-paid, low-value positions ‘to keep themselves active’. It would be disingenuous to suggest that this isn’t also motivated by increasingly squeezed pensions - it often is.
Take into consideration, for example, the large number of ‘mature-preneurs’. There is a significant rise of women in their fifties and beyond who are setting up extremely successful businesses.
Women like Rosemary Conley, author and broadcaster on exercise and health, and Build-a-Bear founder Maxine Clarke are shining examples of how determination leads to success - regardless of age. These women - and I include myself here - are often fit, active, style-conscious and more than a little determined to avoid sinking into some sort of invisible oblivion.
It’s also not a coincidence that KFC, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola were all founded by people in their fifties and sixties. And it certainly didn’t do their brands any harm!
Why should they then be forced, at 65, to sacrifice their gains for some obligatory red line in the sand on their value to the workforce? If you are fit, able and mentally challenging yourself, why wouldn’t you want to stay at work? After all, it’s not a coincidence that the rise in the age at which people retire voluntarily started to go up after the abolition of compulsory retirement in 2011.
Retiring at a later age in the UK can lead to an increase of 10.4% on your pension for each year of deferral - that’s as much as 50% in five years. Given the increases in health and wellbeing, and therefore slowing down the signs of ageing, the age of seventy could now be deemed a similar point to the age of sixty fifteen years ago in terms of future years.
The current figures suggest that a third of us can expect to reach the age of 100. This means that 20 million of us could face 35 years out of work if we decided to give up now. With the average cost of post-retirement living at £14,000 per year plus, that extra 50% could well be very necessary indeed to avoid poverty in the very final years of our lives.
There is increasing research that shows giving up work entirely can be detrimental to our mental and emotional wellbeing, leading to financial strain and loneliness.
Given that as many as half of women over the age of seventy claim to have experienced loneliness due to their increasing age - and many of these women are single - remaining at work provides a social benefit and structure to what might otherwise be very long days spent alone.
What does concern me is the potential for ageism. I wrote a short while ago about the rise in women having surgery in their forties and fifties to render themselves ‘ageless’, through a fear that they would no longer be considered as ‘sharp’ or as valuable to their work teams.
If a woman at 45 years fears ageism, how should one at 65 years feel? We all know that, whilst compulsory retirement is no longer legal, there are other ways to undercut and undervalue a member of staff who is perceived to have outlived their workplace purpose.
The average successful entrepreneur will study up to five hours a week to keep their minds sharp and their skills ahead of their competitors, and I think that everyone should be aiming for a similar figure as they get older.
Ensuring that you know the current trends in your marketplace, that your skills remain sharp and that you show a constant commitment to learning is far more relevant to any employer than a line-free face!
Health is usually the primary concern with older staff. Will they be forgetful, taking days off or just a liability? On a personal level I know that this isn’t the case. For example, my husband’s aunt for example often joins me on my runs - at 79 she is a marathon runner with no intention of giving up, and she has only just retired as a psychotherapist with a successful practice.
In a series on ageing in The Guardian, a Doctor Davies shared his experiences with the 60 somethings turning up (from work and vigorous fitness regimes) with aches and pains that they were stunned to discover might be caused by ageing! We simply don’t get older until much later these days.
If that means we want, and certainly can, do our jobs until we’re ready to choose otherwise, then I say, why shouldn’t we? As for me - well I’ll stop work when I say so - not when society feels I should!