If you’re looking for a thoughtful, fact-filled and interesting guide to planning for your golden years, then Retirement in Canada by Thomas R. Klassen is a wise addition to your retirement reading collection.
Retirement, writes Klassen, is a complex issue both financially and demographically. He notes that the huge wave of retiring baby boomers is unprecedented. “Two-thirds of those 65 and over who have ever lived are alive today,” he writes.
For this huge group, he asks, will traditional definitions of retirement still work? “Retirement typically involves a substantial and sustained reduction in the amount of time spent in paid employment,” he explains. “Yet such a definition fails to include the many Canadians who spend decades in unpaid labour, such as working at home to care for children or other relatives.” What, he asks, does retirement look like for that group, “those who have not worked for money for an extended period of time?”
The old idea of retirement was ending employment at age 65 and never working again. However, Klassen notes, “it is relatively rare for retirement to mean the complete and irrevocable stoppage of work.” There is, he continues, “nothing magical about 65,” and Canada’s very first old-age pension program started at 70. Women, he writes, can still give birth after age 65 through in vitro, a 100-year-old completed a marathon in 2011, students graduate university in their 80s and 90s, and “workers in a range of occupations remain employed years, and in a few cases, decades past age 65.”
Canadians are now living longer. In the 1920s, life expectancy for Canadian men was 59 and for women, 61. These days, most Canadians will live to at least 85.
Will the burden of paying for all these retirees fall upon younger Canadians?
Klassen takes issue with the old-age dependency argument, the “impression of a future world in which a relatively few younger workers will have to support a multitude of retired people.” First, the retirees depend “on savings, such as pensions, accumulated during decades of employment,” rather than on younger workers. Second, such thinking assumes that everyone 15-64 “is employed – that is, they are workers – and that everyone 65 and over is retired and not employed. This is clearly not the case.”
In fact, he writes, older Canadians work past age 65 in ever-larger numbers, either because “they have no choice but to continue earning employment income,” or because “they live to work, rather than work to live.”
The idea behind mandatory retirement at 65 was “to press for adequate pensions from employers and for state programs for older citizens,” he writes. A related idea was to clear the decks for younger people to take the jobs vacated by retirees. When mandatory retirement was ended, Klassen notes, this thinking was revealed as “a fallacy,” based incorrectly on the assumption that the number of jobs in the economy is finite.
While government retirement income programs generally work well, the other main savings vehicles – RRSPs and workplace pensions – aren’t running at maximum efficiency. Klassen notes that only 39 per cent of workers had access to a workplace pension plan in 2010, and that only 25 per cent of those eligible for a private pension joined.
An issue, he suggests, might be affordability. Families in their 30s have significantly less wealth than those in their 60s, who are living in mortgage-free homes and are experiencing their highest levels of income.
So, given all this, will retirement be a good thing for most of us?
Klassen concludes by noting that “most Canadians can expect satisfaction with, and in, retirement after an initial period of adjustment.” He adds that “there is no magic transformation that occurs upon retirement,” so “those with higher levels of satisfaction with life before retirement will likely continue to be fortunate and fulfilled in retirement.”
If you are someone who has not joined a workplace pension plan, or don’t have access to one, the Saskatchewan Pension is well worth checking out. You can start small, and make contributions when you can, and then ramp it up as your income improves over time. It’s a flexible plan that is a sensible retirement savings ally.
|Written by Martin Biefer
|Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22|