x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The View From Here: Retirees no longer know when to quit

Work comes in different forms, of course, and it's possible to create an income without actually doing a job.

My dad, who is 72, still heads out to work every day. Like most men who started work in the 1950s, he figured he would reach 65, get his watch as his colleagues stood around and clapped and depart from the office for the last time.

In his case, this ongoing industriousness has less to do with pressing financial need, and more to do with avoiding my mother's glowering eyes following him around the room as he wanders back and forth between the refrigerator and the TV remote.

He is luckier than most. His skill is obscure - dad makes artificial limbs and other prosthetic devices. This means he gets to work because outside of a Thomas Harris novel, not many people choose to go into a career that consists of building body parts.

If dad's experience is anything to go by, he will soon be joined by an army of creaking old men and women still chained to their desks. Edward L Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard, writes in The New York Times that between 2007 and 2010, the number of workers under 65 has fallen, while those over 65 went up 16 per cent.

Prof Glaeser pointed out that while it was traditionally usual for many greybeards to take on part-time work after retirement - I'd guess this would apply especially to those still married - they were now increasingly looking for full-time employment.

In Europe, retirement age has become a huge issue. Greek hairdressers get to clock out at 55 because theirs is regarded as a hazardous profession - all those chemicals and maybe the occasional irate matron whose blue rinse did not turn out as planned create a dangerous work environment.

Sean Connery still dodders about on the big screen at 81 years of age. Warren Buffett, the world's wealthiest investor, is also 81 and still hard at work creating billions of dollars for grateful shareholders.

Helen Thomas was 89 years old and still hacking away as a White House correspondent, until she was fired last year for a verbal indiscretion. The best guess for the comedian Joan Rivers is 78, another dame who has no intention of shuffling off the stage just yet.

Of course, for some, work is a calling. Turning up to a cubicle farm, or worse, packing shelves at a grocery store, is not what any of us would want for our retirement. A study by the US-based Urban Institute shows that 31 per cent of over 65s in the US choose a job with unusual perks, such as funeral service workers. I guess the staff discount is especially relevant when you work in your twilight years.

Another popular post-retirement choice is consulting, a role that requires the ability to provide one-way advice, charge by the hour and still make it home for a lunchtime nap. It may even be possible to consult to a former employer, one who learns, too late, that experience really does count for something.

Work comes in different forms, of course, and it's possible to create an income without actually doing a job. Which is why pensioners often become landlords. Rental income from a couple of properties may be all you need to see you through retirement.

It is increasingly clear that our image of retirement is about to change, from pottering around the garden to growing vegetables for the local farmers' market. For the longest time, retirement was almost seen as a necessity, in which the old made way for the young. After all, each job that opens by a departing retiree frees up work for an enthusiastic young man wanting to carve his way in the world. But even this is being reviewed.

As Prof Glaeser points out, pensioners who keep working are also likely to remain consumers. And consumption is what drives job creation. My dad, who prides himself on the death grip he keeps on his wallet, is a case in point. Like most people skirting retirement, he would rather spend a week trapped in a cabin with my mother than dip into his pocket.

But occasionally, he will pay for a holiday abroad and buy a new TV when his shows signs of age. He spends money that many of his contemporaries don't, simply because they no longer have it.

Retirement planning should not be just about savings and investment. It should also anticipate that in all likelihood, work will be part of your life past 65. The trick will be to find something that is both productive and fulfilling. Not all that different from now, really.

Gavin du Venage is a business writer and entrepreneur based in South Africa

pf@thenational.ae