Reform Watch: Australia To Raise Retirement Age to 70

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The world is now watching Australia as the country readies itself for a bold shift in pension policy: raising the retirement age to 70, which would be the highest retirement age in the developed world.

Australia’s workers had previously been able to retire at 65. The five year increase will be phased in over many years, and will take full effect in 2035. The plan was announced by Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey:

Hockey is part of the Liberal-National coalition that won power in September, pledging to end what he called the nation’s Age of Entitlement and repair a budget deficit forecast to reach $49.9 billion AUS this fiscal year. Australia is leading the charge for a group of advanced economies from Japan to Germany that are pushing the retirement age higher to head off a gray disaster caused by a growing army of pensioners and a declining pool of taxpayers.

The ratio of working-age Australians to those over 65 in the world’s 12th-largest economy is expected to decline to 3-1 by 2050 from 5-1 in 2010. In Japan it’s already below 3-1 and in Germany it’s close to that level, according to the International Labor Organization.

“While Australia may be the first to raise the age to 70, it won’t be the last,” said Steve Shepherd of international employment agency Randstad Group in Melbourne. “The world will be watching this.”

Australia’s 2.4 million state-retirement-age pensioners draw about $40 billion AUS a year, making it the largest government spending program. That’s forecast to rise 6.2 per cent a year over the next decade, according to an independent review commissioned by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The program provides the main source of income for 65 per cent of retired Australians.

Failure to rein in the program would put a greater onus on younger workers to fund it through increased contributions and taxes. Raising the pension age may also mean more competition for those just starting in the workforce. Unemployment among those aged 15-24 reached a 12-year high of 13.1 per cent in May, more than double the national average of 5.8 per cent.

It’s also interesting to note the results of a recent study on retirement age:

Research shows many people struggle to work until they are 60, let alone 70. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey shows that the average retirement age from 2003 to 2011 for men was 62.6 years old and for women it was just under 60. While that is rising, it is still well below the current retirement age of 65.

And the HILDA data shows, for men, nearly half of all retirements are involuntary with most due to poor health. Women are more likely to retire on their own terms but still 43 per cent retire due to reasons such as ill health, losing their job or having to care for others.

The rest of the world will be happy to sit on the sidelines and watch this fascinating policy shift play out.

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