Aging Down Under: Money (check), Health care (check), Encore (what?)

The U.S. and Australia are both continent-sized, English-speaking countries with aging, well-educated populations and boomer/Gen X/Y/millennial cohorts. But their approaches to aging issues, particularly retirement finances and later-life opportunities, differ dramatically, as I learned during a June visit to Sydney and Canberra, the national capital.

Inspired by Marc Freedman’s 2013 presentation, Australian wealth management firm AMP invited Encore to speak at its “The New Old” symposium, which focused on “busting myths” about older adults.

Beyond the symposium, meetings with a firm advising employers on how to retain older workers, a senior advisor to the Minister for Aging and Aged Care and others expanded my understanding of aging issues and potential encore opportunities in Australia.

Three key issues

AMP CEO Craig Meller sees population aging as the most powerful 21st century megatrend – and is optimistic about the personal and societal opportunities it presents. The “New Old” session highlighted three critical areas.

Money is issue #1; Australia is well ahead of the U.S. in helping workers save for retirement. A 1994 Labor government privatized retirement savings, creating reliable nest eggs, which are supplemented by means-tested government pensions. Tax breaks and high levels of home ownership in a time of rising real-estate prices also positively affect older adults’ financial stability.

Work is another priority. Australia wants to keep people working, to maintain its labor force, provide income and reap the social benefits of participating in a workplace. By 2023, pension eligibility will increase from 65 to 67, adding a financial incentive to stay on the job.

As in the U.S., mature workers seeking jobs face ageism. The government has introduced employment-boosting efforts, including a program offering a $10,000 payment to employers who hire older workers (success has been limited, with only a few hundred jobs created) and Corporate Champions. That program provides consulting support and best-practice training to employers who want to retain older workers, and has attracted over 100 employers with 170,000 older employees. The National Australia Bank, a major financial services provider that has embraced best practices for older workers attributes a rise in its average retirement age (from 57 to 60) to policies developed via Corporate Champions.

A few bright spots offset the challenges: Home Depot-like Bunnings plans to hire 25 percent older workers; the growing elder-care workforce employs many older adults.

Health care is less of an issue than in the U.S., given Australia’s cradle-to-grave single-payer system and plentiful supply of health-care workers. Concerns about the growing cost of health care for older citizens are outpaced by broader public health issues, such as obesity and care for chronic diseases.

Long-term care in Australia is shifting from a 20th century model – funding organizations that provide care – to a 21st century approach that, starting in 2017, will provide cash grants that permit individuals to buy the services they need. This new buying power will certainly lead to creative, consumer-driven choices.

Retirement activities and organizations

Popular retirement activities in Australia include Grand Nomads, RV’ing in Australia and abroad; part-time work; lifelong learning through volunteer-led University of the Third Age; Men’s Sheds – where men (mostly) do hands-on projects and socialize; board service and traditional volunteering, including a popular airport Information Desk program. A growing number of retirement communities offer age-friendly housing, activities and care. The first Village is launching in a Sydney suburb this year.

Two membership organizations support older adults: National Seniors, the AARP of Australia with 200,000 members, offers products, discounts, research and advocacy; and COTA, which focuses more on research, policy and advocacy.

How does the encore idea – using work/life skills to build nonprofit capacity and leave a personal legacy – fit into this picture? To date, it hasn’t emerged from boomers, nonprofits or thought-leaders. There’s no encore movement yet growing in Australia.

That said, the idea resonated with many people I met, because of Australia’s sizeable nonprofit sector, the large number of boomer retirements anticipated in the next decade and the high levels of education and work experience among that cohort. The government’s major social priorities, education and improving conditions for indigenous people, could provide a focus for encore activities, should the movement take root.

Next steps for encore in Australia

We will continue to exchange ideas with Australian thought leaders; we also look forward to welcoming AMP leaders to Encore’s 2016 conference. And we’re starting conversations with potential Encore Fellowships partners in Australia, to showcase encore talent in action.

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