Retirement Industry, in the Middle of an Evolution

Watch and listen carefully to the discernible shifts in the substance and tone in discussions about economic issues in an aging society. In some cases it sounds like a doomsday soothsayer’s convention for the end of the world, as we know it; a world where demographic shifts are like earth tremors, begging for structural repair to that great 20th century construction – Retirement. However even this is only one plank in a broader platform of issues in want of social change.

In 2003, I attended a Statistics Canada symposium in Ottawa titled “New Issues in Retirement”, my first major foray into this conversation where I obtained an immediate appreciation of the fact that the aging and longevity subject would be from the outset, multi-dimensional and global in scope. My small part was as a round-table panelist representing the career management field on the topic of later life career decisions and the 50 plus worker’s participation in an aging workforce.

In the thirteen years since that event, the data and conflab – about aging demographics, Retirement and all things financial and otherwise that flow from it – have prompted more conferences and symposiums, streaming out an abundance of reports, studies, articles, blog posts and tweets; all with as many perspectives as the sky has stars.

Retirement and life reallocation

For a good amount of time since 2003, focus has remained on the Boomer demographic, now squarely in the 50 – 70 age zone, and in many ways the substance of “Retirement” talk has not altered much. As I looked over my notes from those Ottawa sessions, I knew that some history is worth hanging on to while you’re starving for more modern thinking to move you. Listening to the recent public debates about Retirement pension reform in Canada, it seems like we are simply catching up with the days of future passed.

One of the opening keynote presenters at this Ottawa symposium was John Myles, who is now a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Toronto. My notes state the title of his talk as “From Pension Politics to Retirement Politics”. Paraphrasing here, Myles referred in part to the changing of Retirement incentives and intensions – and the trend of how we will make the move to a life reallocation of work and leisure, both due to increases in longevity.

Yet now, one of the discernible shifts is that this life reallocation trend and the politics of pensions and Retirement is no longer of relevance just to Boomers. The other narrative that rests aside this is how the very nature of work and employment relationships has changed the direction and rethinking for everybody including Millennials. We have reached a time where framing the Retirement construct through the lens of the Boomer experience is no longer good enough.

Retirement and generational shifts in vision

Lest we forget, Retirement is an industry, with financial services and health care as the two lead business segments. If the industry built around Retirement doesn’t give you the impression that it is recalibrating its direction yet, it’s largely because in my view at least, that they have not yet adapted the language in their marketing. The generational shifts in vision, attitude and experience in a longevity society demands this, in particular the financial segment of the industry.

Economic impact on a larger scale beyond the direct business side is a most singular preoccupation in the aging narrative and this is presented, if not in gloomy, certainly in fractious tones. Many economic narratives persist in breaking with the headline of everyone’s quest for financial security, the struggle with personal debt and the lack of a savings plan; and on top of that, how the aging workforce is driving us into some point of peril.

Let me leave here for now with a take away thought from the well-rounded perspectives of that 2003 Ottawa symposium, something that would teach us resilience and optimism in spite of our mixed views of perilous or precarious futures. It is simply to suggest that we take sweet measure of the long view; we are merely in the middle of an evolution with respect to understanding aging and longevity and a rethinking our life course, which may take longer than we would like it to.

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