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Life after 40: work, retirement and NZ super

A new research report from Victoria University, funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, investigates paid work, retirement intentions and superannuation issues in the 40+ age group.

Older workers

By 2005, the 40+ age group will make up half the New Zealand workforce. “The issues and problems facing this group are therefore of critical concern to employers and Government agencies,” said Professor of Psychology and project leader Sik Hung Ng.

“Two sides to 40+ worker emerge from the survey,” said Dr Susan Gee, the principal author of the report and research fellow overseeing the project. “On one side, older workers are generally positive about their jobs and do not see their age as a disadvantage in their current position. On the other side, older workers report less access to training and are more pessimistic about their chances of finding another job.”

“Despite a climate of downsizing, restructuring and instability, most of our 40+ group who are in paid work trust their employer, feel valued as an employee, look forward to going to work, and don’t worry much about losing their job.”

The researchers say the largest problem facing older workers may well be employers’ attitudes. “Overall, older workers were pessimistic about their prospects of quickly finding another job at about the same pay, with over half having little or no confidence that this could be achieved,” said Dr Gee. “Pessimism increased with age.”

“Those in rural areas were less confident about their job prospects, while those who were in part-time work were more confident. The survey also found that people in part-time work felt less valued by their employer.”

Access to training was another problem, especially for those over 60. Forty percent of workers aged 60 or more reported that they had no access to training on the job, compared to only four percent of workers in their 40s.

Retirement intentions in the 40+ age group

The study also looked at the retirement intentions of people aged 40 and over, finding that most older workers intend to retire from their main paid job at the traditional age of 60-65. “Only one in 10 gave an age above 65, and only one in eight gave an age before 60,” said Professor Ng.

The survey also shows a discrepancy between a national trend towards declining participation in the work-force amongst middle-aged male workers, and the intentions of the 40+ group, who are planning to keep working until they are 65.

“If older workers’ expectations for continued work are not realised,” said Professor Ng, “there may be adverse implications for financial planning. They may have less capacity to save for retirement and face a longer than expected gap between retirement and eligibility for New Zealand superannuation.”

Another major finding was that a large proportion of older workers intend to undertake some paid work after retirement. Just over half of the currently employed men in the sample intended to work in retirement, and another quarter were uncertain.

Middle-aged working women were less likely than men to intend to work after retirement, and older retired women were less likely to have worked after retirement than were men. However, the proportion of women who had or who intended to work after retirement was still considerable.

Over a third of those who are currently retired reported having worked or currently working after retirement. “Clearly, retirement is no longer a one-way ticket from the workforce,” Professor Ng said.

Retirement saving a problem for some women, people in poor health

The survey found that certain groups - the less well off, the ill, and women - were less likely to be saving for their retirement an may therefore be at risk.

“Those who have poorer health may be in a position of double jeopardy,” said Dr Gee. “They are less likely to be prepared for retirement financially and yet they are more likely to be faced with an early exit from the workforce.”

“Overall, women are less likely to save for retirement,” said Dr Gee. “This is primarily because their economic position tends to be inferior to that of men. Women are also more likely to rely on someone else, either in part or in whole, to provide for their retirement.”

The researchers found that women are more likely to rely on New Zealand superannuation, while men are more likely to have additional sources of income in retirement. Fifty-five percent of the retired women compared to 38 percent of the men reported that New Zealand superannuation was their main source of income in retirement.

Amongst women, those who had care-giving roles were significantly less likely (58 percent versus 73 percent) to be making financial provision for their retirement. Similarly, women who were currently divorced, or who had previously been divorced, were less likely to be making provision for retirement (46 percent versus 71 percent).

Dr Gee said women who are divorced, widowed or single may have particular retirement advice needs. “To date, information on retirement planning for women has been targeted at women in long-term relationships. It may be useful to investigate the possibility of targeting information for those anticipating retirement as a single person.”

Background information

The 40+ Project is a major project within the Positive Ageing and Inter-generational Relations research programme at Victoria University. The programme, which aims to describe, explain and promote positive ageing and intergenerational relations, is funded by the New Zealand Government through the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Most of the results in the research report come from a postal survey of Pakeha / European adults aged between 40 and 79 in the greater Wellington region. The questions on work and retirement formed a small part of the survey. 1770 people were drawn from the electoral roll to take part, and more than 820 completed the survey.

Prior to the survey, the research team spent several months consulting with a wide range of groups, including representatives from the Work and Age Trust, Office of the Retirement Commissioner, Super 2000 Task Force, New Zealand Police, Age Concern New Zealand, Greypower, Ministry of Social Policy, Hillary Commission, Department of Internal Affairs; Human Rights Commission; the New Zealand Association of Gerontology, and others.

By 2002 the researchers will have conducted surveys, interviews and case studies to explore positive ageing and intergenerational relations amongst Pakeha / European, Chinese and Maori New Zealanders.

The research team consists of Professor Sik Hung Ng (Research Team Leader), Dr Susan Gee (Research Fellow), Dr Ann Weatherall, Dr Jim Liu, Te Ripowai Higgins and Cynthia Loong, all of Victoria University.

The report is also available online at (click on ‘research’ and then ‘report’).

Victoria University Wellington

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