This is crazy…
Professor Gloria Gutman has the kind of credentials that should guarantee a long, fruitful stay at the peak of her profession. She developed and directs the highly regarded Gerontology Research Centre at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. She’s written or edited 20 books and more than 100 scholarly articles on such issues as housing for the elderly, dementia and long-term care. Her work is recognized beyond Canada’s borders — she’s president of the International Association of Gerontology, representing organizations in 63 countries.
But last summer she faced a problem. On July 17 she turned 65. At Simon Fraser, as at many institutions and workplaces across Canada, that’s the age of mandatory retirement. Happy birthday! Here’s your watch, there’s the door. One day you’re 64, an internationally respected member of the faculty. The next, you’re too old to be employed as an expert on aging.
“I find it odious,” Gutman says. “At whatever age we are, we should be judged on the basis of our competency.”
In her view, Canada is tossing away a valuable part of its labour force. “It’s insane when you figure what life expectancy is today,” she says. “And look at demographics — fertility rates are dropping. We need everybody to work who can work.”
Increasingly, opinion leaders share that view. Mandatory retirement, once a hallmark of a prosperous and civilized society, now seems doomed by demographics. With too many old people and too few young, something’s got to give. Even Canada’s 66-year-old Prime Minister wants an end to mandatory retirement. It’s a notion, however, that sends chills down the aching backs of some labourers bent over factory assembly lines, or office workers trapped in cubicleland, counting the months until their pension kicks in.