Let's not waste the wisdom of elders
The transition into the world beyond work can be difficult as many people define themselves through their career.
Congratulations! You’ve just retired. After 40-plus years of work you deserve to reap the benefits from all your savings and wise financial decisions.
But what should you do with your time in retirement? Psychologists agree that the transition into the world beyond work can be difficult as many people define themselves through their career.
Psychology professor Norman Abeles from Michigan State University found that the happiest retirees take part in a variety of activities, ranging from volunteer work to exercise and so on.
If the research suggests staying busy with meaningful activities is an important pathway to mental wellbeing it is worth exploring how Australian retirees are faring.
The census provides us data on four activities that might be classified as meaningful: work, volunteering, caring for children and caring for people with a disability.
What are the 3.5 million 65 to 90-year-old Australian residents doing with their time?
Close to half a million 65 to 90-year-olds (13 per cent) are still employed. For some this will have been a lifestyle choice; they simply hang on to a lucrative or fulfilling job. For others this will be an unwelcome financial necessity. Since remaining in the workforce with reduced hours is considered to increase the mood of people aged over 65, this development can be interpreted as a positive trend.
At the last census 19 per cent of our retirement age cohort (662,000) volunteered their time for a charitable organisation. People aged 70 are the most generous retirees with 22 per cent donating their services.
About 453,000 Aussie retirees (13 per cent) cared for a child, most commonly a grandchild, in census week. That’s probably the most quintessentially grandparent thing to do and, while at times stressful, has been proven to be an important source of meaning.
Another 12 per cent (421,000) provided unpaid assistance to a person with a disability. The most common arrangement here would be a wife caring for her husband. Men tend to be a few years older than their wives and experience poor health conditions earlier in life.
Each of these four activities are a source of meaning by themselves. Many individuals will be engaged in two, three or even all four activities.
There were, in fact, 8100 people in the whole cohort of 3.5 million who’ve done it all. They were still working, at least part-time, volunteered for a charitable organisation, cared for their grandkids and looked after a person with a disability. Wow, what a way to make the rest of us feel lazy.
The opposite measure deserves an even closer look. There were 2.1 million 65 to 90-year-olds who weren’t engaged in work, volunteering, childcare or care for a person with a disability. That doesn’t mean 2.1 million elderly Aussies are lazily, bored and aimlessly wandering the lands.
The chart shows how Australian retirees gradually allow for more time that is not filled with one of the big four meaning-making categories as they grow older.
This transition seems well advised. Truisms like “you don’t get any younger” come to mind. More importantly, the data suggests one must learn to grow old and reassess how to spend a day without the structure provided by work.
Most activities that provide meaning in retirement and have been shown to boost mental health, aren’t captured by census data. Quality time spent with family and friends, travel, exercise, mentoring or reading a good book aren’t part of the census survey.
That said, I am sure at least some of the 2.1 million retirees that appear idle in the dataset would be more than happy to share their skills, wisdom and time if the right opportunity was presented to them.
As a young professional seeking mentorship, I might consider reaching out to a retiree in my field. As a charity seeking skilled volunteers, I might be doubling down on my recruiting efforts in the 65-plus cohort.
Few things could be more rewarding in the autumn of life than to pass on one’s knowledge and wisdom and it appears to be that we are not tapping into the wisdom of our elders enough.
By Simon Kuestenmacher. Article originally appeared in The Australian.
If you’d like to discuss your retirement strategy, please speak to your financial adviser.
This publication is provided by MLC Investments Limited (ABN 30 002 641 661, AFSL 230705) (MLCI) a member of the group of companies comprised National Australia Bank Limited (ABN 12 004 044 937, AFSL 230686), its related companies, associated entities and any officer, employee, agent, adviser or contractor therefore (‘NAB Group’). Any references to “we” include members of the NAB Group. An investment with MLC does not represent a deposit or liability of, and is not guaranteed by, NAB or any other member of the NAB Group. NAB does not guarantee or otherwise accept any liability in respect of any financial product referred to in this document.
This information may constitute general advice. It has been prepared without taking account of an investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs and because of that an investor should, before acting on the advice, consider the appropriateness of the advice having regard to their personal objectives, financial situation and needs.
Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. The value of an investment may rise or fall with the changes in the market. Returns are not guaranteed and actual returns may vary from any target returns described in this document. No representations are made that they will be met. Please note that all performance reported is before management fees and taxes, unless otherwise stated.
Opinions constitute our judgment at the time of issue and are subject to change. We believe that the information contained in this publication is correct and that any estimates, opinions, conclusions or recommendations are reasonably held or made at the time of compilation.
MLC may use the services of NAB Group companies where it makes good business sense to do so and will benefit customers. Amounts paid for these services are always negotiated on an arm’s length basis.
This information is directed to and prepared for Australian residents only.