1304.5 - Stats Talk WA, Sep 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 29/09/2010   
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Pulling the Pin
Retiring and not so shy.

If you work long enough, you'll eventually become resigned to working forever.

This was one of the many startling findings from ABS publication 6238.0, Retirement and Retirement Intentions, Australia, July 2008 to June 2009.

We’ve all heard about Australia’s aging (I’ll also grudgingly accept ‘ageing’) population and how this will impact on the nation’s labour force in the future. But what about right now?

Currently, of those aged 45–49 years, just 6% are retired, compared to 22% of 55–59 year olds, 70% of 65–69 year olds and 91% of those aged 70 years and over. Lots of people have been recently heard muttering that they’ll need to work to 70 before they can retire. If that’s so, it will mean a complete shift in retirement patterns.

Now I’m one of those 55-59 year olds mentioned above, or at least very soon will be. And I plan to join those 22% of that group already retired. I know why I’m retiring (time to let others enjoy the thrill of keeping the nation statistically informed), but what about the rest, what’s their reason for pulling the pin?

I’ll be part of the largest group, by reason, of retirees, those who ‘reached retirement age/eligible for superannuation/pension’ (42% of men and 27% of women). Difference though, between me and them, is the actual age of retirement.

This group (the 'reached retirement age/eligible for superannuation/pension' mob) had one of the highest average retirement ages of all groups at 62 years, (63 years for men and 61 years for women). I’ll be going some 7 years earlier than that. More time to roam northern Australia, hauling a caravan and using copious amounts of Grecian 2000, I figure.

Other commonly reported main reasons given by people for ceasing their last job were 'own sickness, injury or disability' (29% of men and 19% of women) and 'retrenched/dismissed/no work available' (10% of men and 11% of women). Looks like I was part of the lucky group!

High rise apartments

Of course it’s all very well to retire, but you need some money to sustain you in your sunset years. For men, the most commonly reported main source of personal income at retirement was a 'Government pension or allowance' (52%), followed by 'superannuation or annuity' (26%).

Although a 'Government pension or allowance' was also the most common source among women (40%), this was followed closely by 'no personal income' (40%). Of the women who reported 'no personal income', 91% reported 'partner's income' as their main source of funds for meeting living costs at retirement.

As a lifelong public servant I had no choice regarding superannuation. When I began work 37 years ago it was compulsory to join the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme. No option for a nave young boy to opt out and spend his money on fast cars and even faster women. Was that a good thing or a bad thing?

Of course, retirement doesn’t always work out as planned. There were 217,700 people aged 45 years and over who had previously retired from the labour force, but at the time of the survey were either in the labour force or were planning to look for, or take up, work in the future. Most of this group were women (144,500). Seems once the blokes go, they never come back!

Population Projection Perth 2010 to 2050

The most commonly reported reasons for returning to the labour force were 'financial need' (44%), 'bored/needed something to do' (35%) and 'interesting opportunity came up' (12%). I think if reasons one or two applied, then reason three is a no-brainer.

Of the 4.3 million people in the labour force aged 45 years and over, 3.4 million (78%) indicated that they intended to retire from the labour force in the future. This begs the question of what the other 22% were thinking. Are they planning work forever?

Well, maybe they will! Of the remaining 954,700 people, 377,600 did not know whether they intended to retire from the labour force and 575,400 indicated no intention to retire from the labour force. If I was a potential employer, these are the people I’d be looking for. The remaining 1,600 were unemployed and had never worked, so it was easy for them to say they wouldn’t stop working, wasn’t it?

And what about life after work? Women (42%) were more likely to have thought about doing unpaid voluntary work than men (31%), who had mostly not thought about this at all (44%). Come on guys, get with the program.

With regard to being socially active, mentally active and physically active during retirement, the most common response among those intending to retire was to 'continue with current behaviours' (36%, 34% and 37%, respectively). In my case this could be a real worry.

Perth city skyline

So it looks like I could be the last of a dying breed, the early retirer. Luckily ABS statistics (3302.0.55.001 - Life Tables, Australia, 2006–2008 ) can tell me how long I’ll live in retirement, before I actually die. A 54 year old male has an estimated life expectancy of 27.9 more years. This should see me last until I’m around 83 years of age.

An Australian woman of my wife’s age could look forward to another 36 years. But, as it happens, my wife originates from the longest living people in the world, the Japanese, which gives her a couple of years on top of that.

So with that I officially retire, from the paid workforce anyway. But I plan to keep track of the stats the ABS puts out and, in true grumpy old man fashion, write disparaging letters in long hand if I spot any errors.

Phil Smythe

Article by Phil Smythe, Client Liaison Unit - Former lifetime ABS employee, now touring Japan as a retired man.