Story: Older people
Page 2 – Life circumstances
The traditional age of retirement from work is 65, though retirement has not been compulsory since 1999. Many older people retire around this age. Common reasons are that they have reached retirement age, want to do other things, have family responsibilities or are in poor health.
Increasing numbers of older people work beyond 65. In 2006, 17% of older New Zealanders were in the paid workforce.
Older people have lower incomes than younger age groups because most are not in paid work. In 2006 the median income for people aged 65 and above was $15,740 (the median for all people aged 15 and over was $24,400). Women’s income was lower than men’s – $14,860 compared to $16,620.
The 2006 census showed that people in the 65–69 age bracket had the highest median income for older people ($17,700). People over 80 had a higher median income ($15,400) than those aged 70–79 ($14,850). Those in the 70–74 bracket had the second-lowest median income over all, behind 15–19 year olds. Older people may worry about having enough money to live on.
In the early 2000s most New Zealanders qualified for the old-age pension (superannuation) from the age of 65. To qualify people had to be resident in New Zealand at the time of application, have been resident for periods totalling no less than 10 years since the age of 20, and no less than 5 years since the age of 50. It was paid every two weeks, and it was taxed for those who had other income. The amount paid depended on marital status and living arrangements. The rate was indexed to increases in prices and net wages.
An old-age pension was first introduced in 1898, for those over 60 and below a certain income. Prior to this older people were expected to keep working and save money, while families and charitable organisations supported older people who could not support themselves. However, by the 1890s New Zealand had been experiencing a long economic depression and older single workers (mainly men) were more likely to be unemployed or underemployed than younger workers. Predictions were that the proportion of older people in the population would increase. Traditional support mechanisms were not enough.
New Zealand was one of the first countries in the world to provide a pension for older people. Eligibility criteria and amounts have changed many times. Significant milestones included the introduction of universal superannuation in 1938, and a national superannuation scheme in 1977.
Other income sources for older people are dividends from investments, savings interest, rent, private superannuation or continuing employment. Most older people’s only major asset is their house – few own any other substantial assets.
People 65 and over qualify for the Supergold card, which was introduced in 2007. Cardholders are eligible for subsidised or free public transport, discounts at registered businesses, and concessions on local and central government services.
The majority of older people live independently and in urban areas. In 2001, 91% lived in private homes. The rest lived in non-private dwellings including rest homes, boarding houses and motels. The government’s ‘ageing in place’ policy encourages older people to live in their own homes for as long as they can, by providing community support. This includes Meals on Wheels, household help and small mobility aids. Family members usually help if they live close by.
Some older people move from their own homes into low-maintenance retirement villages where they can remain independent but easily access special services. Others move into ‘granny flats’ on relatives’ property. Many marae have self-contained ‘kaumātua flats’.
Older people assessed as unable to look after themselves live in rest homes. This is funded by government if the person cannot pay.
Elder abuse is the physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse or neglect of older people by people like spouses, partners, familiy members or institutional caregivers. Most cases referred to the support organisation Age Concern are for emotional, financial and physical abuse, and sons and daughters are the largest category of abusers. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is an annual event designed to highlight the problem and make it socially unacceptable.
Older people alive in the 2000s are unique in the length of time they have lived. As a group, they have lived the longest in New Zealand’s history. In 2008 a 65-year-old man could expect to live another 18 years, and a woman 20.5 years. Uncertainty about how long they will live is an ongoing concern for older people.
With increasing age the prevalence of disability becomes higher. Disabilities include mobility, agility, vision, hearing, memory and psychiatric problems. Ageing also brings the possibility of several chronic conditions occurring at the same time, such as a stroke, diabetes, arthritis, spinal disorders, osteoporosis or cancer. Uncertainty about how long elderly people will live can be a concern for them.
Health services provide older people with relatively inexpensive medical care and free hospital care. There is a large network of community-based support services which assist older people physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Well and happy
A study published in 2009 found that despite their risk of poorer health, the majority of older people were happy with their health status and with their life overall. Health is probably the single most important factor which influences the quality of life of older people.
With the increasing numbers of older people, the cost of providing such assistance is expected to rise significantly. The dependency ratio, which compares the number of people in the dependent age groups (those under 15, and those over 65) to the working-age population, is increasing, but it may be offset by better health for older people and the likelihood of their working into their 70s.
Older people have more time to study so they often enrol as students in community or university courses. Some graduate beside their children or grandchildren. A popular option is the University of the Third Age, an international organisation which provides learning opportunities for older people through lectures, study groups and online courses. In 2009 there were 65 branches in New Zealand.