Before the 20th century, most people worked until they dropped. Some in the leisured classes never really got the hang of working at all, but for most, working life started early and ended shortly before death. And death came soon – in Australia, a boy born in 1881 was likely to live to about 47 and a girl to 50. So ‘retirement’ was a meaningless concept for many (and unaffordable, to boot).

In the middle of last century, the concept of the ‘golden years’ of retirement was born. Think endless golf, world cruises, special retirement communities, bingo and bridge, almost a second (carefree) childhood. Many industry sectors had a compulsory retirement age, and most Australians were encouraged to retire early, with generous pension benefits.

But now things are changing. The pension age looks likely to rise to 70, over time.  And those who turn 50 in 2015 can expect to live into their 80s or beyond, and are likely to be healthy for most of those years, too. That’s a lot of bingo and golf.

So, now people are starting to talk about adding a new stage of life, between ‘adulthood’ and ‘retirement’. So far there’s no consensus even on what to call it – third age, next act, rewirement, older adulthood, unretirement…or? There are less flattering ideas too, such as the grey tsunami or, from one Melbourne writer, the ‘not-yet-dead’. Enough said about that.

Those who continue working into their sixties and beyond can take their pick of descriptors such as encore careers, mature age workers, older workers, late career or seniorpreneurs. (All of which are more appealing than ‘twilight careers’, used recently in a Sydney newspaper.)

Whatever we call them, people over 63 are the fastest growing category of the Australian workforce. And it’s not only employees – business startups and entrepreneurs aged 50-65 have a higher rate of activity than those aged 20-34.

What are you going to do in your next stage?

Joanna Maxwell


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