Ageing Baby Boomers in Australia: Evidence Informing Actions for Better Retirement

Article excerpt

Introduction

Australia's future will be shaped heavily by the emergence of the baby boom cohort in later life and by how well they are able to manage their transitions into and through retirement. The front end of this massive cohort--the 5.5 million people born between 1946 and 1965 (Productivity Commission 2005) --reached 60 years of age in 2006 and their ranks in retirement will increase sharply over the next two decades. Demographic ageing will accelerate, as life expectancy at age 64 years is expected to increase further from the present 18.9 years for men and 22.2 years for women (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2008). These trends in living longer lead to, for example, population projections that the proportion of people aged 65 years and over will increase from 13.2% in 2007, to approximately 18.6% in 2027 and 24.6% in 2057 (around one in every four Australians; Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008a).

At the same time, older Australians are becoming more diverse, both economically and culturally. Although many retirees in the future will have higher levels of income and wealth than previous generations enabling them to leverage services, significant numbers of retirees will continue to rely on the Age pension. In addition, in coming decades, post-war immigrants from non-English-speaking European countries will become a more significant proportion of the very old (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2007).

The Australian Treasurer's Intergenerational Reports (Treasurer 2002, 2007) and a report to Australia's Future Forum (Kendig et al. 2004) underscore how population ageing has major implications for public policy and all areas of society. With retirement looming for the first of the baby boomers, it is essential to build an evidence base to identify issues and inform actions that can maximise baby boomers' opportunities for a successful retirement and ongoing wellbeing into later life.

The current review summarises and interprets recent evidence that builds on earlier Australian reviews and covers the period 2005-2008. Jackson and colleagues (2006) reviewed Australian and international literature on retirement intentions (1997 to 2005) and, in particular, on ways of delaying retirement and extending participation in the work force. Focusing on the timing of retirement, they found an 'elasticity' of approximately six years around intended retirement age where timing could be revised, and also listed factors that can disrupt retirement intentions. The review documented a need for more information on women's retirement intentions. Quine and Carter (2006) completed a broader review of Australian literature on boomers' expectations and plans for retirement published between 1996 and 2005. They reported having found more commentary and speculation than empirical evidence on Australian boomers' health, care needs, housing, employment and income. These earlier reviews identified a lack of evidence on boomers' attitudes and/or plans for their financial future and their opinions on where the responsibility lies for funding their retirement.

Recent changes in retirement patterns and policies (e.g., the 2006-2007 budget changes to superannuation) provide a rationale for this review of the contributions and gaps in the Australian literature on retirement. It considers timing and pathways of retirement, financial planning and expectations for retirement income, and boomers' views on private and public responsibility for funding retirement. The most notable of the recent additions to the Australian knowledge base has emerged from the national Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey (see http://www.melbourneinstitute.com/ hilda/).

Method

Searches included Australian literature published in Australia or internationally between January 2005 and December 2008, and excluded research on other countries. Sources included databases of peer-reviewed literature including OVID (Ageline, Medline, Cinahl, PsycInfo), Informit (APAIS-health, health & society), Scopus, and Science Direct. …