College Of Humanities Holds Fifth Dialogue On Retirement at Sixty: A Blessing or a Curse?

The Fifth of the College of Humanities Dialogue series has taken place at the School of Law Auditorium, University of Ghana, highlighting the Centre for Ageing Studies on the theme, Retirement at Sixty: a Blessing or a Curse”. 

In his introductory remarks, the Provost of the College of Humanities, Prof. Samuel Agyei-Mensah, gave a brief account on the inception of the Dialogue series which he said began in 2016.  He said the Dialogues was aimed at expanding debate on critical national and international issues. He introduced Professor Ellen Bortei-Doku Aryeetey of the Centre for Social Policy Studies, as the Chairperson for the Fifth Dialogue. 

In her welcome address, Professor Bortei-Doku Aryeetey pointed out that about 20% of the Ghanaian work force were in the formal sector, making 20% of the working force, who are required to retire at 60years under the assumption that they lose stamina at age 60.

The first speaker was the Director for the Centre for Ageing Studies, Professor C. C. Mate-Kole.   He called for a minute’s silence to be observed in memory of the late Professor Nana Araba Apt, founding Director of Centre for Social Policy Studies.  Prof. Apt, an expert on ageing, was also a former head of the departments of Social Work and Sociology.  Prof. Mate-Kole briefly outlined the aims and mission of the Centre for Ageing Studies and paid tribute to Professor Aryeetey, former Vice-Chancellor, and Professor Samuel Agyei-Mensah for their foresight in setting up the Centre for Ageing Studies.

Speaking on the theme, “Retirement at Sixty: a Blessing or a Curse?” Prof. Mate-Kole first made a comparison of the retirement age in the United Kingdom, United States of America and Ghana.  He said compared with the United Kingdom, where the retirement age was set at 65years, and 60 years in the case of Ghana, in the United States, primary care physicians were still in direct physical contact with their patients at the age of 75.  Explaining the relationship between retirement and health, he said, retirement might be associated with increased psychological challenges as well as cognitive deficits, adding that retirement has always posed a lot of problems since people have to stop working at the peak of their careers. “At the age of 60 when there is increase in intellectual prowess, it is at this time that one has to retire”.  Professor Mate-Kole, tasked the audience to juxtapose and decide on their own, whether retirement was indeed a blessing or a curse.

Mrs. Rose Gomez, the second speaker, noted that retirement is the transition of work life to life after work. She posed three main questions to address the theme, namely, i) Do we lose resources when people retire? ii)  Does retirement rob us of our skills and educated workforce? iii). Does retirement mean decreased health?  She said that, it takes a long time for those who take over from experienced people to acquire the same skills; arguing that this meant losing skilled workforce for a long time.  She noted that a person’s home environment was a crucial factor if one was to enjoy retirement.   Further, for retirement to be fulfilling, she said this might depend on the individuals’ interest in social activities.  She said when people have interest in volunteerism and creative work, they tend to enjoy their retirement unlike people whose lives were structured around work.

The third speaker, Mr. Ernest Kwesi Okoh defined retirement as withdrawal from a person’s traditional place of work.  He argued that the retirement age at 60, raises a lot of questions as 60 is only a statutory number, adding that for those who are still vibrant at that age, they saw retirement as “irrelevant”. The speaker pointed out that there are some individuals who are not able to function without a rigid work structure.  For such people, he explained, retirement could crumple their personalities. For others, lack of preparation towards retirement could result in inertia and for such people retirement would be described as a curse. “Why retire at 60 when life expectancy in Ghana is 70?” What is a blessing for someone may be a curse for another, he concluded”.

For Professor Augustine Fosu’s response to the theme “Retirement at Sixty: a Blessing or a Curse?”, he put it simply as ‘it depends’.  He said for retirement to be a blessing or a curse depended on the individual, the employer and the society.  He argued that so long as an individual had enough wealth and was in good health, he is sure to count his retirement as a blessing.  Employees he said, could have older adults around after retirement to complement the younger ones.

The presentations generated a lot of discussion, with questions and comments from the audience, making this part of the dialogue very productive.   Prof Mate-Kole shared aspects of a recent research which suggested that even in cases where retirement came with wealth, people still faced significant health challenges.  It was suggested that the strain on pension and social security might be a reason for government to consider an increase in the retirement age, with the argument that “If you are going to live longer, then work longer”.

Professor Fosu suggested a post-retirement avenue where retirees could go back to work after 70 years. He advised people in the informal sector to always think about the future and invest while they could.

In concluding remarks, the Chairperson left the audience to ponder over the questions; "Can the country afford to let you go with all the accumulated knowledge"? Can you be healthy at 60? Is the society prepared to keep you healthy?