At the National Day Rally in 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore’s statutory retirement age will go up to 63 in 2022, and eventually up to 65 by 2030. Even without this policy change, statistics show that many Singaporeans are choosing to put off retirement.
On a global level, PricewaterhouseCooper’s (PwC) Golden Age Index estimates that as much as $3.5 trillion could be added to OECD economies just by taking steps to encourage people nearing retirement age to stay on in the workforce
But in a study carried out by the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), results suggest that there are many other reasons why older employees choose to postpone retirement, even past mandated official retirement ages — and not all of them are positive. Hence, this trend must be approached with cautious optimism.
1. Longevity and the unease of staying idle
Singaporeans are living longer than ever before. Our life expectancy at birth has risen to be the longest in the world, at nearly 85 years.
As government healthcare policies and medical breakthroughs have helped us to live healthier and for longer, more of us may prefer to spend fewer of our golden years idle in retirement.
2. Work gives purpose and identity
SUSS conducted a small study involving interviews with older workers who had opted to continue working after 62.
Findings from the study concluded that the choice to delay one’s retirement was driven by their desire to contribute to society, keep healthy and be socially connected and mentally active. Work gives them purpose, an attribute that gets more important as they age.
While that is admirable, efforts must be taken to ensure that the primary reason some continue working is not because they have an intrinsic fear of letting go of their work identity.
These individuals, particularly men, sometimes base their identities in their work role, and fear the vacuum that retirement will create in their lives. Because of this, help must be offered to ensure seniors can transition gracefully from the working world and find meaningful activities and connections post-retirement.
3. Psychosocial support for retirees
Many older employees are also afraid of loneliness after retirement. In 2016, 47,400 seniors in Singapore lived alone, about double the number from 2006. This figure is projected to further grow to 61,000 in 2020 and swell to 83,000 in 2030.
The number of seniors living alone may outstrip projections considering that more adults are choosing to remain unmarried in Singapore. That said, it is important to remember that not all people who live alone feel lonely or isolated; however, without a support network of friends and family, retirees are more likely to have unmet psychosocial needs.
In fact, the Global Retirement Index for 2019 by Natixis Investment Managers found that Singapore ranked among the worst out of 44 countries for retirees’ quality of life.
This raises the question if there is sufficient social support currently for seniors, giving them something to look forward to post-retirement.
4. Financial responsibilities vs. Early retirement
Most financially secure Singaporeans who reach 65 years old are unencumbered enough to exit the workforce. But there are also a number of older employees who delay retirement simply because they have financial liabilities and need to keep working to support themselves
According to the Global Retirement Index, Singapore tops the world for retirement finances. This means the country’s financial system is sound with a sufficient level of savings and investments which help to preserve the purchasing power of locals’ savings.
Though this may also be skewed by the proportionately large number of high net worth (HNW) individuals living and retiring here. Still, there is more that can be done to promote active preparation for retirement, and to support those who choose to continue working well into old age because they have no other options.
Delaying retirement is not a bad thing so long as there is enough social support and policies in place to safeguard the needs of retirees.
To this end, maximising the benefits of late retirement for the masses will require new measures enacted by the government. Some examples include providing lifetime learning and retraining programmes, flexible work options and pensions and redesigned workspaces that suit seniors’ physical needs.
These changes will pave the way for a more satisfying life in everyone’s golden years – whenever the choice is made to retire.
This article has been adapted from an earlier commentary, "Commentary: More Retiring Later, But is it for the Right Reason?", by Professor Kalyani Kirtikar Mehta, Master and PhD of Gerontology Programmes, S R Nathan School of Human Development, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).
 The Straits Times (Aug 2019): National Day Rally 2019: Retirement age to go up to 65, older workers’ CFP rates to be raised
 PricewaterhouseCoopers (Jun 2018): PwC Golden Age Index: Unlocking a potential $3.5 trillion prize from longer working lives
 World Economic Forum (Aug 2018): These countries are gaining the most by employing older workers
 Channel NewsAsia (Jan 2018): Commentary: More retiring later, but is it for the right reason?
 The Straits Time (Sep 2019): Singapore is top in the world for retirement finances, but among worst for retirees’ quality of life: Study