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London Meeting Tackles the Changing Landscape of Retirement


Around the globe, most spectacularly in the industrialized world, populations are aging. The response varies greatly by country depending on their demographic profile and their policies in regard to retirement.

This point was highlighted at an international conference on “Reinventing Retirement” that took place in London in November. Participants in the conference (sponsored by AARP’S Global Aging program and the UK’s Financial Times newspaper) included government policy makers and representatives of business, academia and non-profit organizations from Europe, Canada, Japan and the U.S.

Among the major topics:

The importance of planning for demographic change. A pre-conference poll conducted for Global Aging found that while there is a general recognition among leaders of the G7 countries that aging issues are major priorities on their countries agendas, most countries are not yet ready to deal effectively with these challenges. Some are just hoping to “muddle through.”

For Alan Johnson, Britain’s Secretary of State for Work and Pensions “muddling through” is not an option. “The next generation of pensioners will have lived through technological revolutions rather than World Wars. They will have had to cope with the smart card rather than the ration book. They’ll be independent, healthier and have very different political demands,” he said.

Similarly, Andrew Gower, editor of the Financial Times, pointed out, people over age 65 have historically represented two or three percent of the developed world’s population. However, older people account for 15 percent of these countries’ population today, and the percentage will grow steadily in the coming decades. How successfully countries negotiate the demographic transition could reshape the global economy.

Reinventing retirement. Several speakers called for abolishing mandatory retirement entirely and eliminating incentives that encourage early retirement. So far, only the U.S. and Australia have done so.

But Ken Georgetti, President, Canadian Labour Congress, told the conference almost three-quarters of Canadians are worried they will have insufficient income to see them through their retirement years, yet the issue of retirement security is getting little coverage in Canada.

Out ahead are the Nordic countries with flexible retirement plans already in place. With a slow response to population aging, it is expected Italy, Germany, France and Japan will face the greatest challenges in the future.

On the street. When asked their top concern about getting old, a BBC online poll found 55% of people asked said health, compared with 20% who said money, and 9% who said loneliness.