sculptures that feature worldwide in sculpture parks such as Changchun in China. The Ashurst resident says artists “don’t think of age, they just get on and do it.”
In addition to these three, I have interviewed a wide variety of septugenarians, octogenarians and “ninety pluses”. There is a ship builder in his nineties who employs eleven staff, a Queen Charlotte Sound dairy owner who bakes her own pies, apple pickers and pruners who do daily physical work and sustain a Nelson orchard, New Zealand’s oldest glider pilot instructor, a rare book dealer and a Department of Conservation hut warden among others.
What do these stories tell us about older workers? They remind us that older workers are not a homogenous group, not simply a set of demographic statistics, nor a “problem”. They are diverse and exist in the labour market as employees, employers, self employed and, very importantly, as unpaid workers. Without being sentimental, older New Zealand workers illustrate the essence of what it is to be a New Zealander. They are an essential part of our economic, social and cultural fabric.
Value of Older Workers
So why do we place less value on older people in society in general and older workers, in particular?
A recent report on ageing in British society challenged the terms used in official reports that implicitly devalue the contribution of older people within society. In particular, the report targetted language such as the “dependent” population referring to older people. In this sense, projections of a growing “dependent population” could imply this is somehow costly or problematic. Yet as we know paid work is not only the economic barometer. Unpaid work, particularly informal and formal care to family members, whanau, friends or neighbours who are sick, disabled or elderly, and grand parenting duties, are saving the health and social services budget in New Zealand a considerable sum.
When we look at what informs public debate about old age it is often doomsday prophets particularly economists who are headlined. Yet the truth according to the powerful NGO, the World Economic Forum, is that the ageing of societies is overwhelmingly good news. The accelerated advances in health and hygiene have made unimagined differences to our lives and more recent advances against cancer, heart and other chronic conditions means the quality of life has improved substantially too. The distribution of wealth has spread across the globe and dropping fertility means the planet’s resources are not exhausted. In short, we’re living happily ever after.
Shakespeare memorably characterised old age in the 16th century as second childhood – without teeth, without eyes, without taste and without everything. He said: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages”.