Review of the Thematic Conference on the Implications of Healthy Life Expectancy

The vast disparities in healthy life expectancy between groups of the Dutch population cannot be easily resolved. The healthcare industry, the government, and employers all play a role in ensuring that the rising retirement age is feasible and, as much as possible, everyone enjoys a similar healthy lifespan after retirement regardless of their socioeconomic status. That was the consensus at Netspar’s thematic conference on the differences in healthy life expectancy and the implications for the pension system.

The conference was prompted by the project “Longer life, longer in good health, working longer?” As part of that study, projections were made about life expectancy rates with and without limitations according to level of education: what can we expect in the decades ahead? Another relevant question revolves around the implications this has for the changes to the pension system. Presenters at the conference sketched a rough picture of the problems involved and possible consequences.

Added Years Not All Healthy
A study by Dorly Deeg (VU MC) revealed that, as a whole, Dutch people between the ages of 65 and 75 have many years of life ahead of them. Not all of those added years will be lived in good health, however. There has been an increase in the number of years people live with slight physical impairments. Moreover, greater numbers of low-income people suffer from deteriorating health earlier in their lives. Yet at the same time, these people must work relatively longer. It is becoming more common among this group, in particular, to work in spite of physical limitations. This results in a relatively higher incidence of absenteeism caused by disability, according to research by Sander Muns (TiU) and others. That, in turn, further reduces the income level for people in their final years before retirement.

HR Policy
This is one area where employers could play a role, suggests Raymond Montizaan (ROA Maastricht University). Financial incentives (such as eliminating early retirement or raising the social security entitlement age) are successful at keeping people working longer but have both short- and long-term impacts on health. If having to work longer is inescapable, then it is important to also keep people motivated and satisfied longer. An HR policy aimed at the continued personal development of older workers could help; simply offering training opportunities has been shown to increase the satisfaction of employees (young and old) whether they take advantage of them or not.

European issues
Wilma Nusselder (Erasmus MC) shows on the basis of a European study that life expectancy without limitations is a bottleneck when it comes to the retirement age. While many highly-educated people only experience health-related issues after the statutory retirement age, many low-skilled people already have these limitations well before that. This applies to the Netherlands and many other European countries.

Fairness
The gap in healthy longevity between the different population groups cannot be closed overnight. It does raise questions about fair distribution, though. Earlier this year, the NIDI (a Dutch institute for demographic research) accordingly proposed differentiating the social security entitlement age according to education level. This would be a costly undertaking, the very suggestion of which prompted much discussion, according to Joop de Beer of NIDI. As part of the Netspar “Flexible Retirement” project group, Arthur van Soest (Tilburg University) studied the options for financing a lower retirement age, for example through lower benefits. This provided little consolation, however: people would be able to retire at most six months earlier if they did not want to fall under the social minimum wage.

The problem of the disparities in healthy retirement years is partly financial and partly social in nature. In an ideal world, differences between groups of the population would be minimized, but that is no easy task. The solution might lie in a combination of motivating and enabling people to work longer using HR policies, providing tax incentives to encourage more saving through occupational pensions, and instituting government policies aimed at fostering financial planning over the entire life course and preventing health problems.

Locatie: Tilburg University Seminar Room K834 Warandelan 2 5037 AB Tilburg

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.

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