Stone the crows! There’s a reason why old Australians don’t work. Not a lot of them like it, which is good because bosses aren’t keen to employ them.

Among the pandora of predictions about the ageing population, the need for older workers to stay in the workforce is a given. As Joe Hockey puts it: “Older people will be critical to maintaining the economic growth that has underpinned the advances in our standards of living and quality of life.” [i]

Just not that many older Australians. The new Intergen report estimates that the percentage of people 65-plus who will keep working is set to rise from 12.9 per cent now to 17.3 per cent in 40 years. Given the growing number of older Australians, this will make for a poultice of people in the workforce, 3.6 million of us are 65 and up now, which will nearly triple to 8.9 million mid century. Even so, it still leaves 80 per cent not doing a day’s work and not doing it for quite a while. People who make it to 60 this year can expect to hang around for 25 years.[ii]

But living longer does not mean wanting to work. Last year, unemployment among people 50-plus rose five times faster than for people in their 20s.[iii] And even those who want to keep working prefer fewer and flexible hours.[iv] If employers want to increase their older-age workforce they are going to have to provide boomers with the very things young workers are criticised for demanding, flexible hours and career development.[v]

However, not all those who live longer can work. According to one recent analysis, 74 per cent of baby boomers are either overweight or obese: “If current trajectories continue, poor health will limit the proportion of baby-boomers who are capable of extending their working lives or who are able to stave off retirement until they can access the age pension.” [vi]

Nor are all able and willing older workers in demand. The percentage of people aged 45 to 64 in the labour force unemployed for more than a year has been double the figure for the labour force as a whole.[vii] It’s why the feds have a specific wage subsidy for employers who employ people aged 50-plus out of work for over six months. [viii]

So what is to be done? By the state, not much. Older people who want to keep working will work – including those who lose their jobs. It seems older unemployed people who want to work and understand they have to get out and sell themselves really have a crack at it. [ix]

And for smart self-starters this is a golden age for old entrepreneurs. Australians do not discriminate against older entrepreneurs on the basis of their age and there is evidence “mature individuals are actually more capable of starting and managing a business than their younger counterparts.”[x]

So some baby boomers will work on after 65 and a few will start new careers, but many more, due to health or preference won’t – whatever the government warns or wants.

In any case, who knows if the Intergen is right. Consider Japan, where the long anticipated disaster of an ageing population is turning into a boom for married middle-aged women who are getting jobs for the first time and the mass of people previously trapped in casual work without the benefits of permanent employment who are now picking up the perks, regular pay cheques and so on, previously the preserve of the salary persons.[xi]

It is hard to predict the future, which is always changing, as the Crows once heard some seer say.

Especially about what people will do in 20 years.

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[i] Joe Hockey, “Ageism in the workplace hurts us all,” The Age, March 3

[ii] The Treasury, 2015 Intergenerational Report, March 5 @ recovered on March 14

[iii] Natasha Bita, “Baby boomers blasted for ‘retiring’ on dole money, The Australian, October 31 2014

[iv] Jennifer Poehl and Bruce Cunningham, “Labour market engagement of mature-age workers,” Australian Journal of Labour Market Economics, 14, 3 (2011) 237-264

[v] Helene Mountford, “Oh won’t you stay just a little bit longer: changing employers’ views of older workers,” Australian Bulletin of Labour 37, 2 (2011) 164-190

[vi] Jennifer Buckley et al, “Are baby-boomers healthy enough to keep working,” Australian Journal of Social Issues 48, 2 (Winter, 2013) 197-221

[vii] Marcia Keegan et al, “Unemployment, income support and job search activity among baby boomers in Australia, NATSEM, July 2013 @ recovered on March 14

[viii] Department of Employment, “Restart wage subsidy,” December 8 2014 @ recovered on March 14

[ix] Hannes Zacher, “Older job seekers’ job search intensity,” Ageing and Society 33 7 (October 2013) 1139-1166

[x] Alex Maritz, “Senior entrepreneurship in Australia: An explanatory approach,” International Journal of Organisational Innovation 7, 13 (January 2015) 6-23

[xi] David Pilling, “Luck has bought a little time for Abenomics,” Australian Financial Review, March 13