70 is the new 65 for UK’s ‘older’ generation, says study

Anyone turning 65 and anxious about joining what the UK government considers the “older” generation can perhaps relax. Longer life expectancy and healthier living mean the threshold should be moved to 70, according to an official study.

In 2017, men in Great Britain on average still had 15 years ahead of them when aged 70, an increase of five years compared with 1997, the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday.

For women, the change has not been as dramatic. The “remaining life expectancy” of 70-year-olds in 2017 was the same as those aged 65 in 1981.

People are not just living longer but staying healthier. The proportion of women in “poor general health” aged 70 in 2017 was about the same as for those aged 60 in 1981. For men aged 70 in 2017, the level was equal to those aged 65 in 1997. 

Line chart of Great Britain, years showing Age at which remaining life expectancy is 15 years for men, and 17 for women

When “serious illness” was considered, men aged 70 in 2017 appear even “younger”: The proportion suffering such a condition was the same as 57-year-olds in 1987. 

“Today’s ONS report highlights the extent to which increasing longevity in the UK is changing traditional life milestones” said Maike Currie, director for workplace investing at Fidelity International, an investment management company. “So-called retirees are now healthier, living longer, and retiring at different ages.” 

The health figures are based on a “small” number of people, the ONS warned. But it added the data supported a revision to the way old age is categorised to plan for future spending. 

Line chart of Great Britain, million people showing While the number of people aged 65+ has increased, the number with 15 years of expected remaining life has fallen

“Measuring population ageing in terms of the proportion of people in the population of a set . . . age may not be the most appropriate measure to use when considering the health of our ageing population,” the organisation said in a statement. “Prospective measures, based on years of life remaining, may provide a more consistent indication and as such may be a more appropriate measure to use when planning for current and future health and social care needs and demand.” 

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The UK has a £8bn social care funding hole, according to a parliamentary study, that the main political parties have pledged to ease as they campaign ahead of the December 12 general election. Tuesday’s ONS data suggest that future spending rises may not need to be as steep as if based on the share of 65 and over.

Nearly one in five people in the UK is aged 65 and over, up from one in 10 in the 1950s. The proportion is set to rise to one in four by 2050. 

In contrast, the share of the population with 15 years of life ahead of them has remained largely unchanged since the 1950s and is expected to remain marginally under 15 per cent up to 2050. 

The 65-years-old entry threshold to old age is already out of date in working patterns.

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The UK official retirement age has been raised beyond 65 years old and about 1.2m people above that age in the UK were in employment last year. About half of the people working beyond their state pension age did so because they reported not being ready to stop work, according to separate ONS data. 

Working longer as a result of longer and healthier life would still require policy adaptations to make sure people in their late 60s or older find and retain jobs, economists warned. 

“Policymakers need to ensure that older workers get the training that they need to keep their skills relevant” said Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities, an independent urban policy research charity.

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