Older people are defined as those 65 years of age and over. Turning 65 can be a milestone – it used to be the official age of retirement, and is currently the age at which people are eligible for national superannuation. Because the group of older people spans about 35 years, people within it vary widely in terms of age, employment, health and life history. Sometimes people between 65 and 80 are referred to as ‘young-old’ and those above as ‘old-old’. In 2013, 75% of older people were between 65 and 79. Overall the 65-plus generation have widely differing life experiences and beliefs.
Living history books
Older people in the early 21st century have lived through some key events in New Zealand’s history – the 1930s depression, the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake, the Second World War and the 2010–11 Canterbury earthquakes. They have experienced technological firsts that younger people take for granted, like passenger travel on aeroplanes (to the other side of the world) and antibiotics.
Many older people see their 60s and 70s as a time to enjoy life without the worries of work or family. Those who can afford it go on holidays around the world, or tour Australia or New Zealand in a campervan. They may begin new hobbies such as genealogy, and undertake voluntary work. They also spend time with their family and in community and political affairs – some local and national politicians are 65 or over. Many remain in paid work. Life can slow down when people reach their 80s, though some remain active into their 90s.
A happy bunch
A 2007 survey found that older people in New Zealand were generally happy and content and had a high level of wellbeing. They had the highest 'level of satisfaction with life' of all the age-groups.
In the early 21st century New Zealand’s population aged rapidly. This is one of the most significant demographic changes in New Zealand history. In December 2015 there were an estimated 674,200 people aged 65 and over. 15% of New Zealanders were aged over 65. By 2038, it is estimated that there will be almost 1.3 million people aged 65 and over – approximately one in four people. By the late 2020s there will be more people 65 and over than children aged 14 and under.
An ageing population has many social implications. There may be fewer people of working age paying income tax, and more older people needing government-funded superannuation and using public health services than in the past. There will be more economic and political pressure to increase the age of superannuation entitlement. However, it is also likely that older people will work and pay income tax for longer than they did in the past. It is also possible that the age of eligibility for national superannuation (state pension) will be extended to 67 years, which could encourage those over 65 to stay in paid work for longer.
There are fewer men than women among older New Zealanders – the 2013 census showed that 46% were men and 54% women. This is because women live longer than men by an average of four years. As men and women age, this difference becomes more pronounced. In 2013, 36% of people aged 85 and over were men and 64% were women.
In the 2013 census most older people (88%) identified themselves as European. This is projected to fall to 77% by 2038.
Few Māori are over 65 years – 32,200 in 2013. Although Māori were 15% of the total population, only 6% of all people 65 and over were Māori. Only 5% of that Māori population were 65 and over. The Māori population is increasing rapidly and by 2038 there will be around 130,000 older Māori – 10% of the older population, and 12% of the Māori population. As with non-Māori, there are more women than men over 65.
In 2013, 5% of the New Zealand population 65 and over were Asian (which is projected to increase to 13% by 2038) and 2% were Pacific Islanders (4% by 2038).