Our receding retirement date

John Osmond reports on a an IWA study into Welsh attitudes to ageing

People in their twenties, thirties and forties in Wales today believe they will be much older than 65 when they retire. This is a major finding from research the IWA has carried out on attitudes towards ageing amongst a wide range of Welsh people. Perspectives on Ageing, undertaken on behalf of the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, reports on focus group interviews with people of all ages, from primary school children in the Rhondda Fawr to chapel goers in their seventies and eighties in Mold. As one woman in her forties put it:

“The way pensions are likely to change in future, what I think I would like to do now, at 43, will be completely different by the time I reach my sixties. The population is getting more elderly and there won’t be enough money to pay me the sort of pension I would want to retire on. Retirement is uncertain for people of our age.”

Concern about what happens if one becomes frail in older age, with fears of isolation and loneliness, was also at the front of many people’s minds. As another respondent told us:

“The worst thing I think is the feeling of uselessness and loneliness being put into a home. When I ask a friend I visit who’s in a home how she’s feeling, she always replies ‘Lonely’. To me that’s got to be the worst thing about getting old.”

However, it was striking that the people in the oldest age group, those aged in their seventies and eighties, were much more positive about the experience of older age than everyone else. As one eighty year-old woman observed, “At our age we don’t have to worry about mortgages and things like that.”

There were contrasting views across the age ranges about the extent of discrimination and prejudice against older people. It was noteworthy, for example, that by and large the older the people interviewed the less they thought this was a problem.

There were strong views about care and nursing homes and how they should be financed. In general, all the age groups in the study shared a sense of injustice that people with savings had to make use of them to be looked after in care homes, while those who had not accumulated much capital were supported by the state.

The research considered the following questions:

When does older age begin?

What do we feel about retirement and when do we expect to ‘retire’?

What are the challenges, opportunities and difficulties of old age?

How are older people treated in society today?

What do we think about care and nursing homes for older people?

How aware are we of other generations?

Focus group interviews were carried out in Cardiff, Rhondda, Port Talbot, Haverfordwest, and Mold.

The study is the second phase of a project that began with the report Adding life to years – Welsh approaches to ageing policy published by the IWA in 2010. Drawing on the expertise of a range of academics and policy practitioners in Wales, this explored demographic shifts that are underway within Welsh society and the implications for Welsh Government policy and the role of the Older People’s Commissioner.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA

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