Working past 65 – are Clinton and Trump so exceptional, really?

Oh the irony. As we celebrate the 25th United Nations International Day of Older Persons, negative stereotypes of older workers are making headline news, with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump charged as ‘too old for the job’ by some.

Age discrimination in the workforce doesn't only apply to presidential candidates. But with the UN estimating that the world's population over 60s will reach 1.4 billion by 2030, maybe it's time to rethink our notions of 'living past our usefulness'.

Like everyone else, people in their 60s are living longer. Much longer. And it turns out that all of us, no matter what our current age, dramatically underestimate just long we will actually live.

How long will you live?

When it comes to predicting our own life expectancy, most of us use our grandparents or parents as a guide. But times are changing – diet, health education, and medicine have improved phenomenally. And as a result, most of us can expect to live much longer than our forebears.

The UN 'Life Expectancy at Birth' tables reveal, for example, that in the European Union, a child born today is likely to live a staggering 10 years longer than one born in 1980. And keep in mind that these are just averages. For every person who lives until 67, there's another who will live to 87. For many of us, living past 100 is realistic.

Who will emulate Hillary?

According to the 2016 Aegon Retirement Readiness survey, the largest global survey of its kind, people globally expect to retire on average at age 63. That means that in around 40 years of working life they'd need to save enough for around 20 years of retirement. This, when most of us struggle to pay even for a two week holiday every year.

The survey also answers another question. How many people, other than Hillary Clinton, age 68, and Donald Trump, age 70, even plan to continue working past traditional retirement age? Reassuringly, 57% of workers globally envision a flexible transition into retirement, which may involve shifting from full-time to part-time work, working in a different capacity or pursuing an encore career.

Interestingly, financial concerns are not the main single reason for keeping working in retirement; instead 57% say they plan to do so because they want to stay active or to keep their brain alert.

Up to the challenge?

But, as Hillary's rival for the Presidency, Donald Trump, recently suggested following his opponents' bout of pneumonia, are older employees actually up to the challenge?

According to Ashton Applewhite, author of the book 'This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism', abundant data show that the over 60s bring a number of positive traits to the table. They're reliable, handle stress well, master new skills, and are the most engaged of all workers when offered the chance to grow and advance on the job.

Older people might take longer to accomplish a given task, but they make fewer mistakes. They take longer to recover from injury, but hurt themselves less often. In short, motivation and effort affect output far more than age does.

Why then, are over a million and a half of US citizens over the age of 50, with decades of life ahead of them, unable to find work? Why aren't employers hiring them?

Bias against older employees

Applewhite cites biases against older workers, finding that some employers view older employees as being expensive and/or less productive than younger candidates. There are also stereotypes about older workers being less adaptable to changes in technology, which can negatively impact how they are viewed by employers and colleagues.

In many countries, the working-age population is beginning to shrink as the number of people leaving the workforce exceeds those joining. Employers will need to employ workers longer. However peoples' ability to continue working depends on employers recognizing the value of retaining staff past the traditional retirement age, and implementing practices that enable them to continue working, and transition into retirement in a more flexible way.

Flexible retirement

The Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement notes that there is a growing appreciation that a flexible retirement offers an opportunity to stay active, engaged, and productive beyond typical retirement age. Its 2016 report on flexible retirement, states that governments, employers and individuals all have a role to play in making this work.

One of its recommendations highlights the importance of individuals keeping their skills up to date – rather than accepting the 'received wisdom' of winding down at 65. The report also cites the need for employers to offer part-time or flexible working hours, to allow people to take a demotion to a less demanding role.

Expect the unexpected

But as sensible as it might be to keep your skills fresh, and keep on working to be financially solvent and mentally fit, the Aegon research comes with a health warning. According to the 2016 Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey, of those already fully retired, 39% stopped working sooner than they had planned to; and of those retiring sooner, 29% did so due to ill health.

Seems there's a lesson there for all of us: Hillary Clinton - and Donald Trump - included.