Working women 65 and older set to double

 SHANE COWLISHAW
 Last updated 05:00 22/10/2014

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Karen O’Leary

KEVIN STENT

EYE ON THE FUTURE: Karen O’Leary, a caregiver at Summerset retirement village in Trentham, is retraining so she can move to a different job as she gets older. ‘‘You have to think that you’ll still be working at 65.’’

 The number of women working past the age of 65 is tipped to double in the next 20 years – and the Kapiti Coast is shaping as the testing ground for what this means for the economy and society.

Rates of older women in the workforce have shot up from 2 per cent of those aged 65 or more 20 years ago to 15 per cent today.

And research by economist Paul Callister, commissioned by the National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women (NACEW), suggests the number could top 30 per cent in a further 20 years. That could mean a significant boost to tax revenue and discretionary spending.

But older women in physical, low-paid jobs, and without qualifications, may struggle to find suitable work, while the growing number of well-qualified women could also find it difficult if the economy falters, says the research, to be presented at a public event today.

“Right across the board, every industry has to think about its ageing workforce,” Callister said.

Looking at regions such as the Kapiti Coast, and how it was coping, was an essential tool in understanding how to approach the future.

The percentage of women aged over 65 there was already more than 25 per cent, a figure that New Zealand as a whole was not expected to reach until 2056.

“I think Kapiti is interesting in the sense there’s quite a vibrant economy,” he said.

“Looking at areas that have adjusted, societies are pretty amazing . . . you can predict this is all going to be doom and gloom, but often societies adjust.”

NACEW chairwoman Traci Houpapa said women were over-represented in sectors where conditions such as low pay, shift work and physical labour could make things difficult as workers aged.

Women who worked past retirement could be classified as “choosers” or “survivors” – those who made their own decisions to keep working, or those who had to. Those with low qualifications were a vulnerable sector of the workforce, she said, and more research was needed to address employment issues for women in their later career years.

Service and Food Workers’ Union national secretary John Ryall said about 10 per cent of members in the aged-care sector were over 65. Low pay was a real problem, and the situation would only get worse unless it was addressed. “I think the main thing with this is paying people enough so they have enough for their retirement, so they can actually scale their hours downwards as they age.”

Minister for Women Louise Upston said the economy was strengthening but, as the employment market tightened, there would be increasing demand from employers for on-job training for staff who did not have formal qualifications.

MIDDLE-AGE SPREAD

The percentage of women aged 65+ in the workforce has risen from 2 per cent 20 years ago to 15 per cent today. In 20 years, people aged over 65 could occupy 12 per cent of the workforce, up from 5 per cent in 2011. By then, 30 per cent of women this age will be in paid work. Only 10 per cent of women aged 65+ with no formal qualifications are employed, compared with 23 per cent of women with post-school qualifications. Women are now more educated than men in all age brackets except for those over 60. Wellington has the second lowest percentage of women over 65, at 10 per cent. On the Kapiti Coast, the percentage is more than 25 per cent – equal to the projected New Zealand figure for 2056. Older women’s employment rates are high in New Zealand relative to much of the OECD.

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

KAREN O’LEARY, CAREGIVER, 48

Has worked at Summerset retirement village in Trentham for seven years. In her earlier life, she worked in the accounts department of an office, but left to raise her children and, when she returned to the workforce, decided to change career.

During her time in the industry she has worked hard to upskill with an eye for the future, earning qualifications in caregiving, dementia care and diversional therapy. “You can’t do caregiving as you get older. It gets very difficult but you can branch out.”

When her job becomes too physically demanding, she hopes to work in a therapy role such as assisting stroke victims in the community. She is also a qualified careers force assessor, helping junior colleagues to raise their skills. O’Leary expects to work past 65 and says it is important to begin planning early.

“You don’t know what will happen between 48 and 65 . . . but you have to think that you’ll still be working at 65. I need to think to myself, ‘I might still be working, and it needs to be in a role where I can cope’.”

PAULA O’RILEY, CAREGIVER, 47

With retirement age less than 20 years away, O’Riley struggles to see a way to avoid working into her older years.

A caregiver at Elderslea rest home in Upper Hutt for more than 20 years, she says the low pay in the industry makes it difficult to get by.

“It’s really hard to make ends meet sometimes. We’re on low wages and, looking at the future, it’s probably not going to change much more.”

She has considered training further to become a registered nurse, but shelved the idea as she simply could not afford to study.

“I really haven’t thought about it but I know it’s going to be hard.

“If we . . . had pay equality then I think we would be able to survive a bit better.”

– The Dominion Post

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