Posted tagged ‘retirement age’

Not so retiring

January 15, 2013

I recently attended a small discussion with a group of United States university professors, and I suddenly realised that all of them were over 60 years old, and about half of them well over 65. All were however still active as full-time teachers and researchers. That all of these academics were in this age group was a coincidence, but in the United Kingdom (or Ireland) it could not have happened at all. The reason why it can in the United States is because mandatory retirement for academics was abolished in 1993. Some argue against the retention of this practice – sometimes using arguments that used to be deployed in very similar form against the idea of allowing married women to continue to work – but on the whole the principle is now well established in America.

Over here we are still much less flexible, and usually the system forces older people out of employment, except to the extent that it may not always prevent their working in return for receiving much less or even no pay. But leaving aside the fairness issue, do we not in any case need to re-examine our retirement assumptions? The idea of the old age pension originated in Bismarck’s 1889 law Gesetz zur Alters- und Invaliditätssicherung. This kicked in at the age of 70, at a time when the average life expectancy of those who had reached this age at all was 73. In Britain pensions were introduced in 1909, and again the pension age was 70. It has been calculated that if one were to apply the same actuarial considerations to today’s population, the pension age would be 76 (some have even suggested it would be higher, possibly over 80).

The retirement age has become a major casus belli in discussions about social benefits and in industrial relations negotiations. In France, improbably, the retirement age has actually been lowered recently. But leaving aside what one might call the welfare state aspects to this question, it could be asked whether we are well served by a system that forces people out of the labour market because of their age, and more particularly, whether in our universities we are impoverishing the quality of our pedagogical and academic offering. Is it time to think about abolishing mandatory retirement in our system of higher education?

Working longer

March 4, 2010

DCU is a young university, and one of the consequences is that it has a younger community of staff. In my last job in the University of Hull I was Dean of a Faculty, and typically we would have retirement functions for members of staff four or five times a year. In DCU, for the entire university, I have attended fewer retirement functions (and I do attend them all) in ten years than I did for one Faculty in Hull during three years. But right now the generation of entrepreneurial and determined colleagues who were there when DCU admitted its first students, and most of whom have stayed extraordinarily loyal to the institution, is approaching retirement age, and some of them have already embarked upon this new phase of their lives. On one of the occasions when we were celebrating their careers and wishing them well, a colleague who was retiring confided to me how she had dreaded this moment and how she wished she could still continue to work. And she remarked that one of her friends, an academic in the United States, was five years older than her but was still staying in her job with no intention of retiring any time soon.

Yesterday it was reported that the government will gradually phase in a new pensions and retirement framework under which the minimum state pension age will be raised from the current 65 to 68, albeit several years from now. Some of this is related to the fact that the taxpayer simply cannot any longer afford to pay pensions for everyone, in particular in the light of changing demographics and a tendency to live much longer. But is this enough? Is the idea of the compulsory retirement age (whatever that age might be) not now an anachronism? Indeed, is it fair? Should we not allow those who want to work longer to do so, as long as they are fit and able? In fact, should retirement not be an entirely voluntary decision?


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