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Friday, 15 November 2019

How old is old?

We should all be applauding Egypt’s new law extending the mandatory retirement age

Azza Radwan Sedky , Thursday 22 Aug 2019
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Views: 1932

Egypt’s parliament has recently approved Article 41 of the draft Social Insurance and Pensions Act, submitted by the government, which sets the pension age at 65 by 2040.

The article includes gradually raising the retirement age and its actual application in 2032 to 61 years and then increasing it every two years. The act has several other articles, but the focus here is on the retirement age in particular. 

Since the change will take place in the distant future, I thought the issue would be rendered mute, but squabbling is part and parcel of today’s social media, and as is the case with any major decision, everyone needs to have a say. 

Before we look at the pros and cons of the law itself, let’s first look at the concept of aging. How old is old in today’s framework? The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that 65 years old is still considered young.

In recent research, taking into consideration the health quality and life expectancy of an average human being, the WHO has divided human age brackets as follows: 0 to 17 years old: underage; 18 to 65 years old: youth; 66 to 79 years old: middle aged; 80 to 98 years old: elderly or senior; and 100+ years old: long-lived elderly. 

The trend all over the world today is to increase the retirement age. It has been set in many countries at between 65 and 67 years old based on various issues but mainly life expectancy.

China’s retirement age is moving up to 67 from 65. US citizens retire at 66. There is no longer a fixed retirement age in Australia, where workers work for as long as they want.

The age at which they can claim their pensions, though, will rise to 67 in July 2023, and, if approved by parliament, possibly 70 by 2035. 

Mandatory retirement has been eliminated in many parts of the workforce in Canada, leaving employees to decide for themselves whether they are ready to retire or not. Places of work are happy to keep them on and profit from their experience and skills. 

Now we come to the Egyptian law and the criticism it has garnered. Those against the new law are the usual hard-to-please hypocritical individuals.

Their first defence is focused on Egyptian government workers’ inability to work hard enough. Hence, instead of having them retire early so as to rid the system of inefficiencies, the law basically increases the burden on society by keeping them longer for no return. 

This outlook warrants, as the saying goes, cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Rather than training workers so they can improve, upgrade, and be more productive, the employees are rendered obsolete, and, consequently, are discarded. 

Others believe that anyone over 60 should be put out to pasture so as to give younger people the chance to enrich society with new and innovative ideas. They also believe that no one over 60 should play a significant role in the future of Egypt. This idea is clearly discriminatory. 

Consider the efforts of such renowned Egyptians as Naguib Mahfouz, who was over 60 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize. The same thing goes for Egyptian Nobel laureate in science Ahmed Zuweil. And how about heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub, still giving his all at 83, and actor Adel Imam at 80?

Others still consider the new law to be regressive and unfair. Since the life expectancy of Egyptians is shy of 72 years, a pensioner may pay into a retirement plan for 40 years only to receive a pension for a mere seven.

This is, in a sense, quite true, but in Egypt a pensioner is usually succeeded by a spouse, a single adult daughter or an invalid son, which is unheard of in many other countries. This extends pension payments for far more years than what the pensioner himself or herself will claim. 

For people working in a tough, physically demanding job such as construction workers, janitors, cleaners, plumbers, and so on, retiring at 65 may not be a preferable option.

Again true, but by 2040, life expectancy will have improved further, and those retiring at 65 in 2040 will be quite young in heart and body. Maybe a provision of some sort should be included for those who don’t want to work beyond 60. 

Life expectancy, as is the case around the world, is the main reason for delaying the retirement age to a later date in life. The same thing goes for Egypt. We are most definitely living longer.

In ancient Egypt, if one managed to avoid the very high infant mortality rates, life expectancy was only 30 for women and 34 for men; today, life expectancy has lengthened by an average of 40 years. This means that Egyptians can continue to give and participate in the workforce for longer. 

As long as one is able to give, working longer is good for one’s health and well-being. It also rewards a worker financially, as a pension is always less than regular pay.

Besides, in the light of continued increasing longevity, it only makes sense that individuals should utilise this for their advantage. Consequently, more workers around the world are choosing to stay in the workforce longer.

According to the US Bureau of Labour, between 1977 and 2007, the employment of workers in the US age 65 and older rose by 101 per cent. 

It used to be the case that a 60-year-old was considered to be an old-timer, but this is not so anymore. Many 60-year-olds are likely to see another 30 or even 40 years of life ahead of them.

And rather than end up sitting at home, getting bored and barely doing much, they can continue to produce for themselves and for their country. Continuing to work for more years challenges them mentally and physically and provides them with a window for socialising and maintaining contact with others. 

The new law on the retirement age in Egypt is consistent with the laws in all the developed countries, and we should applaud it.  

* The writer is a political analyst.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 22 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: How old is old? 

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