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With a growing elder population should the retirement age be made 62 years..

The world population crossed 7 billion in 2011. This could not have been possible without game-changing advances made in the field of medical sciences, which not only increased average life expectancy but also reduced mortality rates.

Statistics show that in developed countries average life expectancy has risen to around 85 years as compared to 75-78 years for developing countries like India. This raises a crucial question whether the retirement age should be raised to 62 year or higher from the current norm of 60 or lower depending on the job.

Why retirement age was kept lower at first place?
Initially, the retirement age was kept lower due to following main reasons:

  • Decline in Productivity: The later period of individual's life was marred with illness and due to poorly developed medical facilities, the illness profoundly affected their productivity at work.
  • Institutionalization: India was going through an experimental phase in few decades after the independence. In such an ever-changing work style and environment, older people who were institutionalized by that time posed difficulty in adjusting and were found more obdurate in general. Thus, lower retirement age seemed a decent option.

Contemporary changes:
Medical sciences have developed rapidly in last few decades leading to an increase in average life expectancy and productive years of an individual's life. Indian pharmaceutical industry has established itself as a world leader in low cost medical facilities. This has risen India's average life expectancy at par with the developed countries.

The process to increase retirement age was first initiated by private sector. With liberalization, privatization and globalization approach adopted by India, the presence of Private sector grew and taking cues from their foreign counterparts, they started increasing retiring age. Older people also became more adaptable to changing work styles. This was due to their better physical and mental health at that age. The private sector's strategy was to tap the experience of older people. Mahatma Gandhi's thought are quite relevant in this regard.

"Knowledge gained through experience is far superior and many times more useful than bookish knowledge" – M. Gandhi

Private enterprises realized this early. They even started hiring retiring govt. employees to serve for them. Often such cases are frequently reported where a government employee immediately after retirement joins private industry at key post and for highly lucrative offer. In academic field, retirement age is intrinsically kept at 65 years and many of the retiring persons even after this age continue with their jobs as professor emeritus. This alludes to fact that a person's spirit and productivity can't be assessed from his/her age. Example: a professor with 40 years of experience in research and teaching is much better suited to do the job than a 25 year old graduating student applying for the same job.

The basic flaw of all these arguments is that they completely overlook the other side of the issue. Older people can bring a lot of knowledge, experience, insightfulness, and acumen to the job but in no possible way they could challenge the innovativeness, curiosity, and out-of-the-box thinking of youths. Moreover, younger people having completed their education in recent past have benefit of being taught in relevance of modern day issues. Their knowledge though bookish is more up-to-date. Thus, keeping them out of jobs is certainly a way to neglect their potential. Unless and until, seniors retire there can be no place for younger.

There can be no one possible solution to question regarding age for there is no one right approach to address the issue. Best way is to decide the matter on a case to case basis.

  • For some sectors, it is definitely beneficial to keep higher retiring age and for some, it is better to have it lower. For ex. It is thoughtful to have an experienced person for framing law and order policy but making a similar aged person actually do the physical work in this regard is not wise.
  • There is no point in making productive people retire and then pay pensions to them while hiring new ones for job. This will affect financial health of any enterprise.
  • Moreover, letting older people continuing in work will keep fresher talent out and will not be beneficial in the longer run. Thus, a more flexible approach must be adopted, deciding matter on a job-to-job basis.
Some innovative approaches like voluntary retirement policy should be brought in, where an individual can be given option either to continue or retire. Also, an office level committee could be formed, assessing individuals after certain age, considering their past performances and their interest in job to see if they are fit for continued employment or should retire. These approaches will result in the best utilization of available talents as said by a famous person "In youth we learn, and in old we understand".

Jiya Jain

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