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Understanding the retiring kind

By Myra Hamilton and Clive Hamilton - posted Monday, 9 October 2006

The baby boomer generation sits at the epicentre of the dramatic reorganisation of the Australian welfare state, where self-reliance has become gospel for policymakers.

Over the past 15 years, the value of self-provision in retirement has been strongly reinforced, with increasing emphasis on superannuation as a method of funding retirement. Prompting this shift has been the so-called fiscal crisis associated with the ageing population and the need for individuals to accumulate more adequate retirement incomes, allowing for a "dignified" retirement.

This direction of welfare reform and the emphasis on self-sufficiency in retirement has subtly altered the way we think about what is natural and acceptable in the funding of retirement incomes.


Traditionally, the age pension was considered an entitlement associated with citizenship that would provide for a modest but comfortable retirement. The move to self-provision in retirement through the promotion of superannuation has shifted expectations about both the nature of that entitlement and what constitutes a "comfortable" retirement.

Research by the Australia Institute shows that, like others, baby boomers have been persuaded of the virtues of self-provision. They believe that individuals should be encouraged to be self-sufficient, that the government should help them to save, and that compulsory superannuation is a good method of achieving this.

They also support the concept of superannuation because it is a means of accumulating an adequate income for retirement.

When asked if the rate of compulsory superannuation should be increased from 9 per cent, there is almost universal assent, with only a small minority of small-business owners raising doubts. Moreover, baby boomers are very supportive of the principle of compulsion to put money away for retirement.

Paradoxically, they feel they and others need to be compelled to save to become self-reliant and to facilitate choice in retirement. Government intervention to promote independence from government, and compulsion to foster choice, are not seen as contradictory.

Despite their support for compulsion to save, baby boomers do not support measures to compel people to continue working beyond the present retirement age. There is almost universal hostility to the suggestion that, now that people are living longer, the retirement age should be raised.


In contrast to their own intentions to work beyond the official retirement age, either by choice or necessity, baby boomers react strongly to the idea of being compelled to work longer. The touchstone is choice.

Among low-income baby boomers, the immediate reasons given for opposing the raising of the retirement age centre on the capacity of people to continue working beyond 65. People are often worn out by then, they argue, and it would be unfair to force them to keep working. In addition, there may not be jobs available, which would force older workers onto unemployment benefits.

But at a deeper level, baby boomers express moral reasons for their opposition to increasing the retirement age. They argue that they have worked long and hard and deserve to have some good years of leisure before ill health takes over.

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First published in The Age on October 3, 2006.

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About the Authors

Myra Hamilton is a doctoral candidate at the University of Sydney.

Clive Hamilton is professor of public ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Myra Hamilton
All articles by Clive Hamilton

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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