How real is unretirement in South Africa?

Faghier Gamieldien
10 August 2022
2 min read

Data from Statistics South Africa shows that between 2002 and 2020, the life expectancy of South Africans increased for males from 59.9 years to 64.6 yearsand for females from 67.2 to 71.3 years.

According to the Pew Research Center, across the globe the population living to 100 years and older is expected to grow to nearly 3.7 million by 2050, from just 95 000 people in 1990. 

What does this mean for us? Simply put, if we are living longer and we retire too early, we may not have saved enough to keep us secure for the rest of our lives. We may have to return to the workforce as pensioners, just to make ends meet. This is known as “unretirement”.

The good news is that we are not only living longer, but we are also staying healthy and fit for longer. This is in part due to medical advances, improved nutrition, and a greater awareness of the need for a healthy lifestyle. Many South Africans enjoy good health in fitness well into their 70s. Evidence also suggests that people who work to an older age are more likely to live longer.

The international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have increased their proposed retirement age from 65 to 67, with the longer-term intention of increasing this further to age 75 by 2050.

As employers decide to increase retirement ages, they may find that they have four different generations working for them. There are advantages to this, as older, more experienced employees boast valuable skills, knowledge, and experience, which can be passed onto younger generations.

In South Africa, there is no official, legal retirement age although this is often written into the employment contract. Employees are typically only allowed to extend their careers with express employer permission.

If one considers that our country faces increasing levels of skills shortages, this seems unnecessary and even counterproductive. We should be finding ways to make the most of our human assets for as long as possible.

For the ‘unretiree’, there are also many advantages to returning to work:

  • Additional income
  • More years to save towards retirement
  • Removing the threat of boredom
  • Increased energy and mental alertness
  • Reduced chance of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s
  • An opportunity to mentor younger colleagues and to learn from them
  • A continued sense of purpose and belonging

By working for only four extra years, post-retirement income can increase by about 10%. By working ten extra years, this income can almost double.

In summary, we should start thinking as though we might live to reach one hundred years old, and align our goals accordingly.


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