THE thing is, everyone wants to live longer, but no one wants to grow old. So we have a dilemma.
Perhaps the key to this one is to stop peering at grain on a head of wheat, step back and take a look at the whole crop.
Recently I heard the Australian ageing and dementia sector struggles with a lack of unity, which degrades the effectiveness of already questionable advocacy groups. Lack of innovation, poor exposure and often a negative wrap from the media partially contributes to a poor understanding or appreciation of the issues from younger Australians. Sound familiar?
But agriculture and the ageing sector have a few more ties than that.
“People aren’t just living longer, they’re living better”
Australia and other developed nations wince at statistics that show their agricultural sectors are filled full of the “oldest” average workers across any sector (53 years old in Australia). I’ve always thought this was a crumbly argument at best. But we might actually be leading the way with the directions our ageing sector is heading.
People aren’t just living longer, they’re living better. We all know 40 is the new 30, 60 is the new 50, and 75 is not what it was 20 years ago. Try to match “had a good innings” with a death at 70 these days, and it just doesn’t sound right.
We’re in a transition where the culture and ideas of retirement are not evolving at the rate of our increased life expectancy, and a healthier one at that. Our older Australians are more able-bodied and sharper than ever. In comparison to past generations they’re adding much value for longer but are wanting to retire at an age that deprives industries of expertise and skilled contribution - and of the course the economy of taxes. I don’t blame the retirees, but are they contributing enough in their work life given they’re increasingly spending less time in it?
The ageing sector is looking to policy to fuel programs that use the ideology of 'productive ageing' as defined by Caro, Bass & Chen (1993) as: “any activity by an older individual that contributes to producing goods and services or develops the capacity to produce them”.
They’re also talking about “stretching the life course”, according to Professor Simon Biggs from the University of Melbourne.
These days, with a stretched life course that sees more time spent in education and retirement, we’re not utilising our older, richer and fitter ageing population as workers for continued economic productivity, which could then open up greater consumer exposure in “silver markets” business opportunities.
It’s also worth considering that fingers are not just pointed at the grey-haired but also at business, in overlooking an opportunity. Many older Australians can’t find work. Just last week Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan stated that the attitudes and actions of Australian businesses that are bias against older employees are costing the economy $10 billion a year!
“Empowering older people to age in good health will help us cope with our demographic challenge”
There is a study underway that will benchmark and show how and when the all-too-common practice of age discrimination happens around Australia. "I think we will find that there is far more negative behaviour towards older workers than people understand - until it happens to them," Susan said.
Personally I’ve seen discrimination happen in agriculture as a resistance to technology and GPS in cropping operations doesn’t do older workers any favours - a failure to embrace new systems means they find it much harder to keep up or get work. But I’ve also seen some embrace the new tech, and extend their working lives, and I’ll never forget sitting around at smoko with two shearers in their 60s still cutting out 120 sheep a day.
A statement from the European Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity in 2012 put it well:
“Empowering older people to age in good health and to contribute more actively to the labour market and to their communities will help us cope with our demographic challenge in a way that is fair and sustainable for all generations.”
Would be interested in your thoughts.