More older people are becoming self-employed


We have been hearing a lot about the ageing of the workforce recently. The topic will figure in Age Concern’s conference in April this year.  It is a particular area of research interest for me. In my blogs I have listed the pros and cons of “staying on” in the paid workforce; described the attitudes of employers; and given examples of adjustments that forward-looking employers are making to retain the wisdom and expertise of their older workers. I have also written about unpaid and caring work in later life, upon which many of our organisations and communities rely.

But there is a dimension to this debate which has received less attention.  Among the choices which people have as they contemplate work in later life – part-time, part-week or part-year employment; casual and seasonal work – there is also self-employment. A rather grander way of putting this would be entrepreneurship – setting up a business and working for yourself.

What better way to realise the potential of older workers and to capitalise on their lifelong experience and skills than for them to create enterprises of their own.

What do we know about the older self-employed in New Zealand?

A common definition of “older entrepreneurs” is men and women who started or who are considering starting a new enterprise after the age of 50. To me this sounds rather young, but 50 plus is an internationally recognised threshold. Many countries define older workers as aged 50 plus (not too nice to think about when your children are not too far off this threshold!).

The NZ Census does not have a work status category for entrepreneurs at any age – assuming the above definition of entrepreneurship. But there is some data on self-employment – a related concept.

According to Statistics NZ figures, there were nearly 162,000 people aged 50 plus who declared themselves as self-employed in 2014. This had risen from 139,000 in 2000. The majority of these are men, but the female numbers have been growing rapidly since 2000, so that now almost one in three older self-employed people are women (see table below).

50 plus self employed

Within the 50 plus age group, between 2000 and 2014, the numbers of self-employed men and women aged 50-54 decreased, but there was substantial growth in the 60-64 and 65 plus age groups (see graphs). The same was true for women, adding in the 55-59 age group, although the numbers were lower.

self emplyed graphs

This reminds me of something I read a long time ago. In 1980, Nick Zepke put forward a scenario for New Zealand of a compulsory retirement age of 45, after which people would become self-employed . They would be part of a small scale “household economy”. Perhaps I could use this idea in my own mental picture. The age should be 60. After this people could either teach the skills they had learned through their working lives or, with subsidies (in terms of management training and seed funding), start up new enterprises to contribute to the economy and create jobs. I think it is worth thinking about.

Next time I will follow this up, looking at why self-employment/entrepreneurship might be attractive to older people.




[1] Harpham, M., Wilkins, P. and Zepke, N. (1980) Picture of the Futures. Mallinson Rendel Publishers, Wellington. Harpham and Zepke were then on the staff of the Commission for the Future, which was abolished by the government in the late 1980s.

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More Older People will be renters – A trend we cannot ignore

Judith Davey


In December 2015 I critiqued a report entitled Homeless Baby Boomers. Since then housing problems have come to the fore and hardly a day goes by without a headline relating to the “housing crisis”. Often it is first home buyers who are seen to be suffering most. But here I want to look back to other research, which focused on older renters.

The rate of home ownership in New Zealand has been dropping since its peak in 1986, when 73.5% of households were owners, to 67% at the time of the 2006 census and 65% in 2013. And the rate is projected to fall even further in the future, even though homeownership is still somewhat higher among older people.

New Zealand housing policy from earliest times has emphasised the goal of home ownership, imparting it with moral value (ownership was claimed to produce responsible and stable citizenship). As a result, renting has been seen as second class; renters have been stigmatised and renting tenure is insecure.

Older people are especially vulnerable if their housing tenure is insecure and if their housing is cold and damp. Renters cannot easily adapt or modify their housing to deal with declining health and reduced mobility. Many surveys have shown that renting in New Zealand is associated with social and economic deprivation. It is the poorer people in any age group who are more likely to be renters. The implicit assumption has always been that NZ Superannuation will be sufficient to support a basic lifestyle provided that the recipients are home owners and have paid off their mortgages by the time they reach the age of eligibility. So falling home ownership and increased renting among older people should be a cause for concern.

Our report to the Department of Building and Housing in 2008 included the following findings.

• In 2006, there were 288,900 households where the reference person was 65 years old or older. Of these households, one in five was living in rented accommodation.

• 34,920 rented from private landlords (64%); 11,180 households from central government (20%); and 8,120 households from local authorities (15%).

• From 1996 to 2006 the number of older households renting from private landlords increased by nearly 30%. So this is the dominant tenure type for older renters.

• One person households were the predominant type of household among older renters, accounting for nearly two-thirds of such households. The majority of one person households were composed of women.

These figures have probably not changed greatly in the 2013 census and we await the 2018 figures.


But the projections to 2051, however tenuous, are concerning.

• By 2051 the number of households with a reference person 65 years or older is projected to increase to 820,000, of which 169,000 will be living in rented accommodation (21%).

• Between 2006 and 2051, the number of older renter households in the 65 to 74 age group is projected to more than double. In the 75 to 84 age group it will nearly triple. In the 85 and over age group numbers will grow nearly nine-fold, from 6,670 to 53,885.

• Numbers renting from private landlords will grow from 34,970 in 2006 to 112,260. Those renting from central government will increase by about the same amount, from 10,865 to 40,450. Renting from local authorities is projected to nearly double, to 16,130 households in in 2051.

These figures call for policies to increase the supply of affordable rental housing designed with older households in mind, particularly single (and female) tenants. Can the private sector be relied upon to do this? Concerns are frequently expressed about the quality of housing in this sector, with calls for independent “warrants of fitness.”.

In the past, local authorities received subsidies and low interest housing loans from central government, but both central and local government public rental stocks have been cut and there is considerable concern about the sale of pensioner rental housing and rent increases.

It seems there is a role for innovative private and public rental developments, with central and local government, private sector and ‘third sector’ (i.e. voluntary organisation) landlords working together.

Given growing numbers of very frail and disabled older people, rental housing providers of whatever sort need to recognise the need for home-based services and investment in appropriately designed housing , and also that housing needs interact closely with care needs. This means better integration of social support, health care and housing, and changing expectations, values and standards concerning the quality and appropriateness of housing. Innovative approaches to planning and design and increased engagement of users in the development of housing models and advocacy services are required for all sectors of the housing market. It is vital that the needs of renters are not obscured by the needs of majority home owners.


[1] Nana, Ganesh, Stokes, Fiona, Keeling, Sally, Davey, Judith and Glasgow, Kathy (2008) Older Renters 1996-2051: Trends, Projections, Issues and Challenges. NZiRA and BERL.

[1] The reference person is the Statistics New Zealand term for the person who completes the Census dwelling form.


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The Business of Ageing


Judith Davey

The Ministry of Social Development has published three reports entitled “The Business of Ageing: Realising the Economic Potential of Older People in New Zealand” in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Recently a 2017 update has appeared. These reports highlight  the positive side of ageing, or at least the economic contribution which older people can make. This comes in the form of workforce participation, tax-paying, acting as consumers and doing unpaid work.

The series of reports has tracked the growing economic contribution of New Zealanders aged 65 plus. It aims to influence the business sector to adapt to the ageing workforce, accommodation older people in or wishing to re-enter paid work, and to recognise the opportunities offered by a growing older consumer group.

Measurement is not easy in these areas, especially when attempting to make projections into the future and there is considerable uncertainty about the accuracy of the projections in their detail. Modelling uses Treasury’s Long Term Fiscal Model and progressive updates of Demographic and Labour Force Projections by Statistics NZ. In order to make comparisons over time, monetary values have been rebased to 2016 dollars. Technical details are available at the Ministry of Social Development’s Business of Ageing Website.

Results – Older people in the workforce

At present around 52 percent of men between the ages of 65 and 69 participate in the Labour Force and 62 percent of this group are likely to be in paid work, not necessarily full-time, by 2061. The comparable figures for women are 36 percent at present and 48 percent by 2061. By mid-century, nine percent of males over 80 and five percent of women over 80 are also likely to be working. This suggests some catch-up in female participation rates, bringing them closer to those for men.

The overall participation rate for people 65 plus is projected to rise slightly from around 24 percent (current) to around 25 percent by 2051-2061. This is a slowing down of the recent rate of increase, reflecting the movement of the “baby-boom bulge” through the population.

Value of paid and unpaid work

According to this set of projections, wage and salary earnings by older people are likely to rise from around $4.8 billion in 2016 to around $22.8 billion in 2061, a nearly 400% rise in 2016 dollars.

Remuneration from self-employment by older people is similarly likely to rise from around $1.7 billion in 2016 to around $8.1 billion in 2061, also nearly 400% up.

Income Tax paid by older people on remunerated work is projected to rise from around $1.0 billion in 2016 to around $4.6 billion in 2061. This does not take into account, however, tax on sources of income other than earnings, such as interest from bank deposits, other investments and government transfers (including NZ superannuation and GST).

The total value of all tax paid by older people is projected to rise from around $5.5 billion in 2016 to $25.1 billion in 2061,also getting on for 400%.

The value of the unpaid work is harder to assess, but a proxy value of $16.50 an hour was assumed (equal to the “carer’s wage). This showed an equally impressive rise from $11 billion at present to $47.5 billion in 2061. These figures suggest that the value of unpaid work done by older people exceeds the combined value of wages and salaries and income from self-employment, and that this difference will increase. The question arises, of course, of whether increased paid employment will result in a decrease in voluntary and caring work by older people.


The total value of expenditure by older people [inclusive of GST] is projected to rise from around $20.7 billion per year in 2016 to around $94 billion per year in 2061. This increase exceeds the total projected for tax paid.

On current patterns of expenditure, some 28 percent of this sum is expected to be spent on foodstuffs, alcohol and tobacco, clothing and footwear, and a further 22 percent on housing and housing related items. Health (11%), transport (13%) and recreation and culture (11%) constitute other important market segments.

We have already seen goods and services directed at older people beginning to be developed in the private sector. They include companion drivers (Driving Miss Daisy), personal services (Elder Care Matters) food delivery and assistive technology. Firms offering Super Gold Card discounts provide further examples. There are plenty of other opportunities for the forward-looking entrepreneur.

The same can be said for forward-looking employers, in the face of skills shortages. Rather than seeing an ageing population as a burden or a crisis, it can be the basis for economic enterprise. There is a role for government to ensure that barriers to such development are tackled and overcome.

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What kind of work were older people doing in the 1891-1921 period?


Judith Davey

The descriptions of the occupational categories used in the censuses contain what we would consider outdated or even quaint language. They began “embracing all persons….” And continued as shown on the table below –



Change in categories over time

Throughout the 1891-1921 period the leading male occupations were the same for workers 65 plus and all male workers- primary production, industrial and commercial work. These three accounted for around 90% of older male workers, so the graph for older male workers is about the same in 1891 and 1921.

workforce graphs

The growth of workers in transport and communications work is masked when they are included under commercial. From 1896 this was a separate category and the number of males aged 65 plus engaged in this work grew from 378 in 1896 to 1064 in 1921 (nearly 300%).  Over the same period, the total male workforce in transport and communications also grew substantially. I am thinking that this had to do with the era of railway-building. In 1880 there was 2000km of railway in New Zealand, three-quarters in the South Island. The main trunk railway, from Wellington to Auckland, was built between 1885 and 1908.

The primary producer category continued to lead for older men, but the proportion fell as did the proportion in industrial work.

There was more change in the female categories. Although domestic work was among the three most common categories in all years (with the same for the female workers 65 plus) the proportion of all women in domestic work fell from 46% to 30% while the proportion of older women remained the same. Commercial work was important for older women, probably in retail trade, but industrial work dropped for women 65 plus. Work in the primary section remained important for both older men and older women, probably they were working on farms and in horticulture on family enterprises.

females better


In trying to analyse these trends, we must remember the “indefinite” category, which I excluded in the above calculations. This stayed about the same (2-3%) over the period I examined for all males. It was higher for all working-age women, but fell from 7.5% in 1891 to 2.6% in 1916.

There are more questions about the 65 plus age group. If there was no old age pension until 1898, why were just over half of Pakeha women in New Zealand in 1891 classified as “indefinite” (anyone “living upon incomes awarded for services rendered at some previous period, or upon incomes the source of which is not perfectly defined) rather than being dependent? Are there social historians out there who could help? Moving into the 20th century the proportion of older women in the indefinite category continued to be well over 40%. There are some indications in these figures that the availability of a pension was making “retirement” more possible for older men and women in New Zealand as the country moved into the 20th century.

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More older people in paid work – is this anything new?

Judith Davey 12/01/18

We hear a lot about people staying on in paid work after the age of eligibility for New Zealand Superannuation (I get cross when I hear people talking about the “age of retirement” when there isn’t one!). Is this a good thing – for themselves, for the economy and for the nation as a whole? Well, I have written about this myself, see my blogs in mid-2015. The numbers of both men and women aged 65 plus who are in paid work have increased rapidly recently and this is expected to continue. But then I wonder – what about the past? What was the situation then?

I found some census figures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with data on number of men and women in various occupations. Both sexes were quaintly divided into “breadwinners” and “non-breadwinners” or dependents (sic). No prizes for guessing the predominant sex composition of each category! These figures excluded Maori, and I have no way to correct that. I have added a footnote for those who would like to know more about early censuses in New Zealand.

Throughout the 1891-1911 period, females accounted for just under half of the European population. This grew to 50% in 1916 – probably because many men were abroad in the First World War. Females accounted for a smaller percentage of the 65 plus population, varying around 40%.

Non-breadwinners included “wives, relatives and others, if employed at all, in household and other pursuits for which payment is not usually made; also children and others being educated and persons supported by public or private charity or detained in penal institutions”.

How many older people were in the workforce then?

To approach this question you have to make a few assumptions, and so my answers can only be tentative.

• The occupation categories include one called “indefinite” which includes anyone “living upon incomes awarded for services rendered at some previous period, or upon incomes the source of which is not perfectly defined.” This would include people living on pensions, annuities or savings and not really in the workforce. So I have left this group out of my workforce category.

• To compare the proportion of people 65 plus in the workforce with the proportion of the total population, you have to make a stab at what could be called the “working age population”. I have taken this to be the 15-65 age group. There are young people in the 5-15 age group who are classified as working in the occupational groups. I am hoping that none of these were under about 13 (although I know my grandmother, born in 1882, went into “service” when she was 14).

• Just to remind you – there was no coverage of the Maori population.

Here are my results.

Percentage of males and females in the workforce, 1891-1921

Age groups 65 plus and 15-64 years


There is a very clear difference between the two age groups and between men and women workers. Males have much higher rates of participation, but the figures for men 65 plus are not far behind those for men in the general working age – 81% to 98% in 1891. In the same year 11% of women aged 65+ were in paid work and 25% of women in general (full table at end). So for older men certainly, a higher proportion were in paid work over the whole of this period than is the case now.

The graph lines diverge with time for both men and women. In 1921, still over 90% of working age men were in work, but for older men this had dropped to 70%. About a quarter of women were in the workforce throughout the period, but there was a drop for older women, down to 7% by 1921.

To explain these trends requires a look at the social and economic situation of early Pakeha New Zealand, along with retirement income provision . You may have some thought on explanations. I suggest that, in the mid-nineteenth century, European immigrants would mainly have been men well able to work and there would have been plenty for them to do. As the European population matured more people would have reached later life in the “colony”. The Pakeha population aged 65 plus had grown to 5% by 1921, for both sexes (from 2% in 1891). Sex role stereotypes were alive and well in the late 19th century and had not relaxed a great deal by the 1920s.

Next time I will go into the occupational breakdown by age and sex over the same historical period.


[1] The first general census in New Zealand was held in 1851, covering Europeans only (26,707) (information from the Encyclopaedia of NZ Vol.2, p.821-830). The 1877 Census Act called for censuses every 5 years. The first census of Maori was in 1857-1858 (56,049) but the results were uncertain and recorded only age, sex and subtribe. In 1926 a Maori census was taken in a more methodical way with a special schedule and Maori interpreters. The Maori schedule was dropped after 1945. Since then the census has covered everyone, with the same range of questions.

[2] In 1898, in a world first, New Zealand passed legislation to give a small means-tested pension from age 65 to people with few assets who were ‘of good moral character’.  Applicants had to have lived in New Zealand for the previous 25 years.

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InterRAI – progress and a farewell

Judith A, Davey


One of my blogs in May 2016 was entitled “A new tool for assessing need” and talked about interRAI assessments for aged care services which have been recently introduced into New Zealand. This is something of an update, as the 2016-17 interRAI (this is how it is presented) Annual Report has just been published. This combines, for the first time, the Governance Board Annual Report and the National interRAI Data Analysis Annual Reports.

There has certainly been progress in the interRAI sphere. The whole idea of interRAI is gaining acceptance among service providers, health professionals and the public, after some reservations about shifting to a new system, time taken for assessments and potential diversion of nurses’ time away from patient care. Some of these concerns figured in an independent review of the implementation of interRAI in aged residential care, which was published in March 2017. Since then, processes and policies have been “bedded in”, changes have been made in training and record-keeping, and new ways of using interRAI data are being explored. Numerous research projects are under way using this data, hopefully showing how aged care can be improved, once their results are publicised.

New interRAI instruments are being introduced, for example the interRAI palliative care assessment and there is talk of expansion into the mental health area and into ACC’s ambit. There is a question of whether interRAI will retain its current focus on older people as these new instruments can be expanded to cover all age groups. I wonder how Age Concerns would view this.

A lot of effort is going into the handling of data, to make it more accessible and useful. “Data visualisation “is intended to “make data come alive”. This is intended to be interactive and to allow data at national, regional, DHB and population sub-group levels to be extracted (see  This will still need a good level of computer literacy and care in its use as some of the data refers to assessments rather than people (individuals may have more than ONE assessment over the period in question). Also, of the population aged 65 plus, only 13% of women and 8% of men have had assessments. This will all have to be made clear. Most of the people involved are aged 85 plus. Females and people of European descent predominate, but this is in line with the demographic group as a whole.

Working with the Aged Care Association a new workshop for residential care managers and senior nurses, to make interRAI work better has been piloted and will be rolled out in the coming year. It also now possible for all aged residential care facilities to have individualised quarterly reports, which will help improve decision-making and planning, not to mention comparisons and “bench-marking.”

The report contains two case studies, which, for many people, will be more illuminating than graphs and statistics. The first focuses on people with dementia living at home. There are some interesting findings about this group (based on data from 35,500 home care assessments in 2016-17) –

17% of home care clients with dementia live independently, without support;

18% have full-time care from family and friends;

33% have daily episodes of troubling behaviour;

35% require extensive assistance or are completely dependent.


And of the people who care for those living with dementia –

44% report feeling distressed or angry because of the demands of care

55% report being overwhelmed by the person’s support needs.


This paints a worrying picture of individuals and families coping with a condition which is predicted to become more common as the population ages.

The second case study reports how a registered nurse in a residential care home is “making the most of interRAI”.  Instead of being frustrated that assessments were diverting her from caring responsibilities, the nurse now sees their relevance; allowing her to identify key areas for care planning and monitoring. Nurses can compare the prevalence of various conditions with national averages and with other DHBs. They can track improvement or otherwise on an individual basis over the course of several assessments.

There has certainly been significant growth in the use of interRAI in New Zealand. It is to be hoped that this will continue and that the focus should clearly remain on outcomes, especially for older people, improving their wellbeing and alleviating their health problems – also giving support to informal carers. The interRAI processes must not be ends in themselves. There is a danger that complicated high-tech “solutions” could go this way. I also hope that research based on interRAI data will always have an applied rather than a purely academic focus.

I have been a member of the interRAI Governance Board for over two years, representing the consumers’ point of view, which I have tried to apply whenever I could. My term has now come to an end and I will not be re-appointed. I have learned a lot!


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Pre-funerals – withdrawal from life or a celebration of positive ageing?

Judith Davey


Is long life a good thing or not? Human beings seem to be ambivalent. Over history and throughout the world, people have shown respect and support to eminent people by shouting “Long live……..”. In the Old Testament, long life was seen as a reward from God – “The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short” (Proverbs 10:27). An excellent initiative to show respect and support today is through Age Concern’s Dignity Champions scheme, which I have already joined. (See the Age Concern website for more information.)

On the other hand there are many negative connotation associated with living to a great age – senile, dotard. In 1600, Shakespeare, in As You Like It, typified the last stage of life – “second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”.

And today we talk about the “burden” which older people impose on society – “greedy oldies”, the Grey Tsunami and so on.

But the concept of Positive Ageing implies that older people still have agency to take pleasure in their later years and celebrate their lives. This approach is epitomised in the contemporary Japanese celebration of “pre-funerals”

In a small wood-panelled room on the outskirts of Osaka, a band of mourners have gathered to raise prayers and burn incense for the departed. There is music and flowers and an empty casket. The departed — an elderly husband and wife — are standing with the congregation, still very much alive.

This is a seizensō, or living funeral. A relatively new trend for a country steeped in tradition, the concept was popularised by actress Junko Yamada, who televised her own living funeral. Purposefully upbeat in tone (one of the “hymns” chosen was Santa Claus is coming to town). Yamada shifted the focus from one of bereavement to a celebration of her life. It was an iconic TV moment, even if it was a parody of over-wrought celebrity memorials.

A Japanese anthropologist sees the living or pre-funeral as partly a reaction against routinised commercial funeral ceremonies organised by surviving relatives[1].  Instead it is something more personally meaningful with the “deceased to be” taking the lead in planning the ceremony and a central part, interacting directly with friends and relatives. This also reduces the emotional and financial stress on families – “I don’t want to cause trouble for others when I die.”

The pre-funeral allows people to be the centre of attention once in later life – he or she can say nothing to the congregation at a funeral. Pre-funerals are cheerful and festive, not sombre. Typically the event includes speeches, music, singing and socialising, with religion optional. It is an opportunity for the central actor(s) to say goodbye and thank those present. As is becoming common in New Zealand funerals and elsewhere, slide shows and videos provide a commentary on the person’s life.

There can be an element of leaving social obligations, or giving away possessions, taking up freedom to pursue personal pleasure and agency rather than dependence – older people taking charge of their lives. It can be a way of alleviating the guilt when elders need to go into rest homes and hospices, and grants the opportunity for the “departee” to maintain control of their own exit from family life.

Another factor may be the redistribution of wealth from one generation to the next. Soaring life expectancies mean that many older people are living well into their children’s sixties or even seventies. Where it exists, inheritance can be a retirement lump sum. This “starves” following generations from wealth which could have helped them to fund ever more expensive housing, education and other living costs. Living funerals can provide an opportunity for parents and grandparents to pass on their accumulated wealth. They can downsize to smaller homes and lifestyles, to give their adult children and grandchildren a boost in financial matters. They can also help to pre-empt arguments over inheritance and let the older people have a hand in its distribution.

There are some dangers, however. In Japan there have been stories of frail elderly people being bullied into pre-funerals by demanding children, whose interests are based on greed or what has been called “inheritance impatience”. Isolated elders may be duped by con-men posing as long-lost relatives.

So, as well as being a new cultural export from Japan, pre-funerals, which are becoming evident in the United States and Europe, may be either a valuable contribution to positive ageing and the agency of older people – or a new form of financial elder abuse?




[1] Satsuki Kawano (2004) Pre-funerals in contemporary Japan: The making of a new ceremony of later life among aging Japanese. Ethnology vol.43, no.2 p.155-165

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