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A retiree explains why you can't generalise about the retirement age

Maureen Goodwin believes workplaces could do more to cater for older employees. Photo/Hagen Hopkins/Listener
In many ways, Maureen Goodwin is a typical retiree. Like 70% of New Zealand pensioners, the Lower Hutt widow is mortgage-free. Two years ago, she retired, aged 67, after working as a secretary for more than 50 years. She copes financially on her $23,000 NZ Super, topped up by savings and money from the Government Superannuation Scheme she joined in 1990. Hers is a “no frills’’ retirement – she is neither wealthy nor struggling.

The grandmother of two has friends who are worse off than her, and some who are doing okay. However, she thinks our rising pension bill is unsustainable, particularly as we are living longer.

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She has mixed feelings about whether the age should be hiked or the pension restricted. “The age of 65 is such a mixed bag. Some people can seem quite old at that age, while others can be running businesses or doing all sorts of things, so it’s very hard to generalise.’’

However, she does believe the New Zealand work culture should do more to support older employees. In her last role, as an executive assistant at a government department, she looked after 12 different managers over eight years. She started to feel out of place – some of the general managers were the same age as her sons. In March 2016, Goodwin says, “I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can do this’. I set such high standards for myself.’’

For her, though, a job gave her a sense of purpose, and also extra income she could save for retirement. Younger colleagues seemed envious that she was about to retire. “While they thought that, I felt so thankful to be still in a job as long as I was,’’ she says.

On the brink of her 70th birthday, Goodwin feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. When she visits retirement villages and attends events for older New Zealanders, she often feels out of place. “The stereotype of being retired or a senior is a challenge. I don’t know where I belong.’’

This editorial was first published in the November 10, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.