Melbourne workers waiting longer to retire than since the early ’70s
Melbourne workers are retiring at the oldest average age since the early 1970s, with a tight jobs market, more flexible work arrangements and increased life expectancy encouraging tens of thousands of people to remain employed.
The trend has been pronounced among more educated older Victorians, many of whom are dabbling in the jobs market from their homes to earn extra money.
In Melbourne, the average age of retirement for women last year was 65.1 years, up 3.7 years since 2002, and 66.7 years for men, up 2.9 years since 2002, according to KPMG economist Terry Rawnsley.
The city’s figures are slightly higher than in Sydney, where the average retirement age for women was 64.9 and 66.5 for men.
Nationally, the expected retirement age for women in 2022 was 64.8 and 66.2 for men.
Geoff Charles is nearly 76, but retirement is not on his radar.
Geoff Charles is nearly 76 and still works as a phone consultant from home. He has no plans to stop.Credit:Joe Armao
He works three days a week as a phone consultant for JobWatch, fielding calls from employees who have lost jobs or face other workplace rights issues.
Work has been a defining part of Charles’ life since he was 19, when he began working in industrial relations.
“I just can’t imagine stopping work,” he said. “The days flash past, it keeps you really busy and you feel involved. That’s what a lot of older Australians need.”
Charles considered retiring once he hit his late 50s. He quit his job in industrial relations, but it wasn’t long before he began rethinking things.
“I got bored stiff. I’m not a golfer, so I wouldn’t spend all my time playing golf,” he said. “I thought, this is ridiculous, I’ve got to do something … You miss being involved.”
Rawnsley has dubbed the surge in older people returning to the workforce since the pandemic the “great unretirement”. Nationally, nearly 537,000 people joined the workforce between 2019 and 2022. About 179,000 of these workers, or one-in-three, were over the age of 55.
“The lockdowns during the pandemic made many older Australians in professional jobs realise that they could ‘semi-retire’ and continue to dabble in the workforce from home or even from down at the coast,” Rawnsley said.
“And in what is a tight labour market, given the lack of international migration in recent years, employers have obliged.”
Nationally, the average retirement age fell from the early 1970s to hit a low of 61.6 for men and about 60 years for women by the late 1980s as an army of workers was permanently pushed into early retirement by structural upheaval linked to the demise of traditional manufacturing industries.
But since the late 1980s, the trend has gradually reversed, with a shift towards service-based jobs and away from more physically demanding work. In Victoria, unemployment reached a historic low of 3.5 per cent at the end of last year, although the latest figures show it increased to 4 per cent in January.
The KPMG analysis suggests that more educated people have been driving the trend into later retirement due to improved job flexibility in “knowledge intensive” jobs.
In 2022, workers holding a postgraduate degree tended to retire much later than the rest of the labour force, at over 67 years old.
For those with a bachelor’s degree, which includes typically less-flexible jobs such as teaching and nursing, the expected retirement age was around 66, while workers who completed year 10 and above were expected to retire at 65.
JobWatch executive director Zana Bytheway said that although older workers had an enormous amount to offer, they still faced barriers in the workplace, including age discrimination.
“If we look at the main problems faced by older workers, it’s still about a lack of promotion because often employers don’t want to invest in them,” Bytheway said. “Older workers cop it on the chin, they self-assess, they say, ‘I should get out and make room for younger people’. There is a guilt factor meaning they often don’t complain about discrimination.”
Charles’ wife, who is 76, also still works. She is employed at a primary school where she helps students with special needs.
They had planned to discuss a potential retirement plan later this year, but he isn’t convinced it will happen.
“I just feel I can go until something stops me,” he said.
Charles believes people his age benefit from having something meaningful to do – something to stimulate the mind and keep them in touch with communities around them.
“It keeps your brain ticking over, and as you get older you need that.” And for those who may doubt the abilities of older workers, Charles said they need only consider the Rolling Stones. “They’ve got to be in their late 70s and they’re still working.”
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