Modern Retirement - It's up to You


Stephen Wyatt is the Director of Future Years Consulting, providing career coaching and counselling services. He has developed and utilises the Future Years Program to assist Mature Age clients to plan their retirement. Stephen is currently the CDAA National Treasurer and a CDAA Professional Member. 

The concept of retirement has changed dramatically over the years, particularly over the last 2 to 3 decades. The retirement that our parents and forebears experienced is now quite different to what we aim for.

Retirement in the 21st Century is probably best summed up as what our parents would have labelled semi-retirement. Traditionally, most people retired and ceased paid work when they reached the Government prescribed retirement age and most took up the Age Pension. However today, people are retiring earlier or later than this age, and are far more active in their retirement.

Modern retirement reflects the changes in our society over the years. As an example, when the Aged Pension was introduced into Australia in 1909/1910 the expected lifespan was just over 55 years. Life expectancy in Australia is now approximately 80 years for men and 85 for women. This difference is understandable when you consider the advances in medicine, education, technology, and the nature of work. 

In 1910, and for a few decades thereafter, the majority of work was primarily manual labour. The result was that when people did retire, they were in most instances physically worn out, and retirement was indeed an opportunity to simply stop and rest. This is not to say there were no professional or office type work, however as a percentage of the work performed, these roles were a low number.

Our education levels have since grown dramatically. In the first half of the twentieth century, very few people completed Year 12, let alone undertook a tertiary education. But now with most students undertaking Year 12, the growth of university places and the emergence of TAFE’s, the majority of the population are now tertiary educated.

The introduction of superannuation and self-funded pension systems, (particularly compulsory superannuation in Australia), has also seen people generally retiring wealthier now than their forebears, and not just reliant on the Government Aged Pension.

But perhaps the largest change to how we live and work, has been the technological changes that have occurred. The invention and massive growth of computers, the containerisation of shipping, the development of electric tools and appliances, and the massive rise in the use of cars have all touched how we live and work. All of these things have made what we do much less manually intensive, and has revolutionised, simplified or automated many of the repetitive tasks that need to be achieved.

Currently, manual labour accounts for only around 6% to 7% of all work, which means that most people are working in roles that require mental agility and creativity rather than strength. This is now termed Knowledge Work, as it requires a nimbleness of thinking and learning, rather than the manual dexterity and/or brute strength of the past. 

Now healthier, wealthier, more active and living longer, retirement today is best described as a continuation of our career, that is, each of us bring a range of skills, experiences, attributes, that we can apply to this next phase of life.

As P.C. Chen observed in his article, Life Career Re-engagement: A new conceptual Framework for counselling people in retirement transition – Part 1, from the Australian Journal of Career Development, “retirement can be perceived as another new phase of life-career development, forming a ‘retirement career’ that manifests a combination of new meaning, ideas, perspectives, interests, plans, projects and activities in life.”

This next phase of life is now known as the Third Age of Life. This Third Age, also called the Fulfilment or Golden Age, commences at about age 60, has a span of some 25 years, and is an age where we maintain all our capabilities and thirst for life.

The First Age of life is called Preparation and encompasses our younger years and adolescence and is a period of sustained learning. The Second Age is called Achievement and is about employment and family and is where we first start to take control of our own lives.

The Third Age is where we, as much as we can, take full control of our lives and have the opportunity to undertake those activities, passions or interests that have been with us but have not become a reality.

This does not have to exclude working. For many people, work provides much mental stimulation, social interaction, and a sense of achievement, and many are keen to maintain this, albeit not full time. In the context of retirement however, work does not necessarily need to be for money. Within our communities, there are many opportunities for voluntary work, with many who have retired doing some paid work and some voluntary work.

For many others, retirement means breaking free from the bonds of paid work and following their passions.

Some people simply want to have a rest, and this is fine, as it is healthy to get the thoughts and habit of work out of our system. However, they need to place a firm timeframe on that rest, so they can commence living the lifestyle they want. Otherwise a few months becomes a year, then two years, and they find themselves in a lifestyle they never envisioned or wanted. 

So, what is retirement in the 21st Century? It is about being active doing the things you want to do, in the way you want to do them, and doing them when and where you want to.