France’s pension-reform protests go to show how uncomfortable many people are with the idea of needing to work longer even as life expectancies creep up. Different countries have their own ideas about the issue too. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, only about 60 per cent of those aged between 55 and 64 in France are still in the workforce, compared to about 80 per cent in Iceland, New Zealand and Sweden.
Here in Sweden, people are approaching the problem from a different angle with some success. Entrepreneur Ingrid Erlandsson wants to get Swedish pensioners back to work. Since 2007 she has run Veteranpoolen, a company with chapters across the country and some 9,000 older people on its books, and the interest is growing. Members of the pool are called on to do odd jobs at flexible times and at their convenience. That might mean pruning apple trees, building a playhouse or painting a living room; it could also include short-term professional posts in fields ranging from finance and education to plumbing, carpentry and upholstery. The list is as long and varied as the skills of these pensioners.
Their work is partially tax-deductible for those who hire them. More importantly, however, many participants report feeling useful, relevant and grateful for the opportunity to share their wisdom. And that’s not to mention the benefits of staying fit and engaged.
Many elderly people in Sweden, as elsewhere, are unhappy. About 40 per cent of women and 30 per cent of men over the age of 85 say that they feel lonely and isolated. Veteranpoolen is a solution that could work beyond Sweden’s borders too. It’s a good thing to bring retirees back into society where they should be: visible, important and appreciated.
Liv Lewitschnik is Monocle’s Stockholm correspondent. For more ageless delights and time-tested wisdom, take out a subscription to Monocle magazine today.