Commentary: Reassessing retirement

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The anecdotal evidence has been around for a while. But now the hard facts show that working beyond the age of 55 is becoming a thing of the past in the industrialised world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In 1990 only a third of British males over that age were employed. The situation was much the same elsewhere, though just 10.9 per cent of Italians were still at their posts. Only Japan breaks the trend, with 60 per cent in work.

'Hear, hear,' you say. But not everyone shares in the rejoicing. While many welcome the chance to enjoy a long and active retirement, others are forced out to make way for younger colleagues.

There are sound reasons for this development. It is in society's interests to employ young people and the demands on modern wage slaves are sometimes sufficiently arduous to prevent the less energetic from maintaining the pace.

But these arguments do not address the criticism that such a policy leads to waste of valuable resources. Put bluntly, there are real business benefits in having a few grey hairs around the place.

The OECD puts the blame on public and private sector measures that have encouraged early retirement. It says there is a case for a reassessment of the pension and social security incentives.

However, it is perhaps depressing that a report just published by Reaction Trust, the charity that seeks to raise the profile of elderly people in business, appears to bow to the inevitable.

Accepting that the 'third age' will take up a large chunk of our lives, it calls for the addition to company benefit schemes of assistance plans for retirees.