Figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) recently showed that there are now more than one million workers aged 65 and over. This is the highest number since the ONS started collating this data, back in 1971.

Most experts and commentators seem to be saying that this number of older workers is likely to rise significantly over the next few decades. Whilst there are a number of reasons behind this change in working patterns, the one that is most consistently flagged up has been financial need.

By continuing to work beyond their anticipated retirement age, older workers can supplement a meagre pension, delay taking money from their pension fund, or buying an annuity, which should mean a bigger pension further down the line.

The demise of the guaranteed company pension scheme and the ending of final salary schemes leave many workers with smaller pensions. Coupled with a decade of poor investment returns and the collapse in annuity rates in recent years, many would-be retirees are finishing work with far less in their pension pots than they had hoped for – which thanks to increased life expectancy, may well have to last far longer.

The need to continue to work beyond the point of retirement because of financial need is on the whole a negative driver. A far more positive motivation for continuing to work later in life is an intrinsic desire to do so – a desire to simply continue working or an interest in doing something new in the working world.

There is now some evidence of a growing shift in thinking for some people late in their working lives where the approaching point of retirement is not seen as the end of their working lives, and the sense of purpose and usefulness that come with working.

Some people feel threatened by the approach of retirement and want to have choices, which include working on. However, there’s increasing anecdotal evidence in the media that many ‘elderly’ workers are far happier in work than in retirement, with examples of a few working on well into their 90’s.

Many of these workers have left more traditional employment and now opt to be self-employed. When the time for retirement from a ‘lifetime of work’ comes – and with increasing longevity this expression is losing some meaning, it is about having options and feeling able to make the right choices, including on the basis of wants rather than just needs. The culture of working beyond retirement by choice, rather than by need, is to be welcomed.

The simple fact is that with better health and a “younger” outlook, today’s 60 and 70-year olds don’t feel they are ready for gently slipping into old age just yet. However, one downside of the shift to more ‘post-retirement’ working by older people with skills and experience is clear – that employment opportunities for younger people become more squeezed in an already difficult jobs market.

Sources: www.ons.gov.uk