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 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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Tracking Living Costs for Seniors – CPI or HLPI?

Judith A.Davey


Most people will have heard of the consumers’ price index (CPI), which tracks changes to the prices of items that New Zealand households buy and so provides a measure of inflation. The CPI is used by the Reserve Bank to guide monetary policy; to adjust welfare benefit rates, and by employers and employees in wage negotiations. It can help to show how adequate incomes are in relation to price rises, which is especially important for older people, most of whom have fixed incomes with little opportunity to supplement them.

Statistics NZ has been measuring consumer prices for 100 years, but the goods and services measured in the CPI have changed, reflecting the changes in New Zealand society.

“In 1914 we collected prices for sago, tapioca, treacle, and tripe. Washing machines were added to the CPI in 1949 followed by refrigerators in 1955, televisions in 1965, and home computers in 1988[1]

It took until 1955 to include private motoring and beer in the CPI basket of goods and services and a further 20 years for wine and spirits to be included. There are now 11 CPI groups: food, housing and household utilities, health, recreation and culture, education, communication, clothing and footwear, transport, alcoholic beverages and tobacco, household contents and services, and miscellaneous goods and services.

Over the 100 years, prices for consumer items have increased 7,500 percent. Annual inflation averaged 4.4 percent. It was in double digits from 1973 to 1983, peaking at 19 percent in 1987, when GST was introduced.

In the 1990s a superannuitants’ price index was published. This showed a faster rate of inflation for renters than owner-occupiers. This index was discontinued in 1999. Due to aggregation and averaging, it did not show a great deal of difference from the general CPI, especially for home owners.

More recently a new set of household living-costs price indexes (HLPIs) have been developed, which track inflation as experienced by 13 different household groups.[2] One of these is superannuitants, but the groups also include beneficiaries and Maori. There are five groups of households according to level of expenditure.

The HLPIs arose out of consumer consultation by SNZ, which pointed out that the CPI was a macroeconomic indicator and an aggregate measure, rather than truly reflecting the living costs of households. For example, the CPI does not include mortgage interest payments, only the cost of purchasing new dwellings. What was needed were extra indexes to reflect changes in the purchasing power of incomes for different demographic groups. Data from Household Economic Survey in 1973/74 made constructing special indexes for particular household groups technically feasible. The data for these measurements began in the June 2008 quarter.

Superannuitant households are where the highest-income recipient receives a New Zealand government pension[3]. The figures show that these experienced the highest annual price change over the over the first years of the HLCIs.

The most recent HCLI data is for the September 2017 quarter, released on 27 October.

Household Living-costs price indexes, recent rises: –

                                                                      September quarter       Annual change 2016-2017

Lowest expenditure household [4]          0.8%                                 2.6%

Superannuitants                                            0.9%                              2.3%

Households overall                                        0.6%                            1.9%

This shows that cost inflation for the lowest-spending households increased 2.6% in the year to September 2017, well ahead of households overall (and especially the highest spending group, at 1.5%). Superannuitant households also had higher cost inflation rates, especially in the September quarter.

According to Stats New Zealand, poorer households experienced a greater impact from increased prices for rents, insurance, cigarettes and tobacco. Do you think that this also applies to superannuitant households? If not, what made their price inflation higher than average? High home-ownership costs have played a part – for rates and insurance – as most superannuitants own their homes. Local authority rates for the September 2017 quarter rose 3.4%, reflecting an annual increase. For superannuitants the cost of rates is a larger proportion of total expenditure than it is for other groups.

High-spending households benefitted from decreased prices for telecommunication services and audio-visual equipment, which may be seen as luxury items.

I welcome your comments about what might be causing these differences and if the HLCP Indexes are more useful than the CPI. We need to keep an eye on these measurements to see how they relate to the adequacy of retirement income.





[2] Household living-costs price indexes: Background

[3] Similarly, beneficiary households are where the highest-income recipient receives a benefit payment.

[4] The lowest 20% in terms of household expenditure.

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Progression of Feelings about University Study  


Judith A. Davey


As the 60-plus students thought about their university experiences, there was a typical sequence of emotions.


Several were very unsure of themselves and their abilities at first. Lillian and Stan feared that their study skills would be out-of-date. Geraldine had thought “you had to be very clever – super intelligent – to go to university”. Frequently this was related to their age and the feeling that they would not “fit in” with the school-leavers at Victoria University.


As the older people moved into their courses, many of their fears proved unfounded. They adjusted and began to enjoy their study and interactions with younger and mature students.

I have been treated as “normal” by students and staff and in no way patronised. To me this was a surprise and a delight. (Stan)

You have to make an effort to fit it, not to take over in seminars, to listen. But the younger students were very tolerant and I have met some wonderful mature students. (Lillian)


Joy and excitement clearly shone through when interviewees spoke about their study experiences, especially the women.

It’s a lot of fun and I am having a wonderful time. I get more of an adrenaline rush with this research than with any job I could go for at my stage of life. (Katherine)

It’s magic – I really like history. People said “you’re drooling”.  I came away angry with dead teachers who only told us one side of the story. Study is addictive – now that it is over I am grieving. (May)

I found it liberating, exciting. In fact I need to get less excited. I fizz along too much. (Lillian)

It’s really heady stuff. Study has become a way of life. I can’t put it down. (Joan)

I almost felt like clapping in some of the lectures. (Stan)

Others were more measured in their reactions, but still talked about the pleasure of learning; the new vistas which their studies had opened up for them; the challenges, but also the stimulation when their abilities met the test.

Confidence and Self Esteem

Despite barriers and difficulties, for the majority of respondents university study ultimately became a source of confidence, respect and credibility and a boost to their identity as retired people. Even those who had lacked self-confidence initially began to feel they were proving themselves. In his music course, John was forced not only to compose a piece, but to sing his own song. He rose to the occasion:

They got me doing things I never thought I would.

Interviewees were proud to report the respect which study gave them and their families’ support. Diana’s children all had degrees and her husband was a retired scientist, still active in his field. She liked to feel that she was keeping up with him in her own way. Stan’s pleasure in learning was reinforced by knowing that “not only my children can do well.” Grace talked about her grand-daughter who is studying at another university.

She says “Grace, I like to see you doing that”. I think I encourage them, by obviously enjoying my study.

Cynthia also said her husband was secretly pleased at her achievements. She said jokingly – “He thinks it’s a bit of a hoot!” – but also felt that the satisfaction was shared by all her family. Nina felt that she was part of a family tradition of valuing education. All of her five children and now her ten grandchildren were well educated.

It shows my children and grandchildren that I am one of them. They tell people “my grandmother is at the university”.

Sheila summed up the pride in their achievements which infused many of the 60-plus students.

I am incensed when people just say, “I am doing some papers at Vic.” I say, “I am “working for a BA”. People say, “Are you really?” I like that. I have a new persona – university student.

This is not to suggest that everyone enjoyed such support. May’s daughter was horrified when her mother started a BA.  But her grandchildren were delighted and boasted about it. Others found their friends disinterested or even critical, but their confidence allowed them to ignore such attitudes.

Most of my friends think I am nuts. (Susan)

My friends almost sneered. They thought it wouldn’t last and said I would be bored. A lot of people still don’t know that I go to university; I try not to talk about it. (Stan)


For several of the interviewees, both men and women, the pleasure and satisfaction which they derived from study brought almost guilty feelings. Grace considered that she was being “wickedly self-indulgent;” Deirdre that she was “egotistical and self-centred”. These feelings were linked with a somewhat puritanical view that it could not be quite right to enjoy something so much, or that time should be spent in more altruistic pursuits. To counteract the feeling, interviewees frequently expressed the view that studying is good for older people, providing stimulation and structure in retirement. John’s mother died of Alzheimer’s disease. He was clear in his view that senile decay is staved off by activity.


Thus, looking back over their university experience, the interviewees mostly expressed high levels of satisfaction with their choice of courses and course content. Only a few expressed some dissatisfaction with teaching and assessment, and only four were dissatisfied with their own performance at university. Lillian and Stan felt that they were not thinking as quickly as when they were younger, but Joan was realistic – “Study is addictive, one always wants to do better.

Overall, I hope I have shown that educational involvement can indeed assist the transition to retirement and contribute to successful ageing in the psychological sense.



[1] Davey, J., Neale, J. and Morris Matthews, K. (Eds.) (2003) Living and Learning: Experiences of University after Age 40.  Wellington, Victoria University Press.

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Coping at University as an Older Person

Judith Davey


Once at university, the 60-plus students faced a range of factors, which impinged on their view of themselves as students and retired people[1]. The majority mentioned barriers to achieving their study objectives. These concerned life situations, especially time constraints. Comparatively few mentioned money as a personal problem, but several commented that study was an expensive business for retired people.

Barriers, arising from university systems and facilities were sometime mentioned. Diana complained about library restrictions and John about a shortage of computers. Some of the post-graduate students were having problems with supervision – finding appropriate supervisors; being accepted by the department; and the assessment system –

It has taken so long to get the second examiner’s report in for my thesis. I feel disappointed, isolated and frustrated – it has already taken some of the shine off. (Cynthia)

Thus far, these barriers were shared by adult students in general. But some were more clearly age-related. Students aged 60-plus were more likely to mention health problems, less effective memory and lower energy levels. Katherine found it hard to climb uphill to some of the classrooms. Rose and Sheila complained of lack of energy and arthritis. The men in particular suggested mental disadvantages, especially poorer memory, slower and less reliable thinking processes. As a result, examinations were almost universally stressful and difficult.

The head doesn’t work quite as well as it used to. (Trevor)

Older people are not as quick, more anxious, worry a lot. (Joan)

Despite the high proportion citing disadvantages for older students, almost all the 60-plus group thought that there were advantages. Life experience was stressed. This could bring greater tolerance and breadth of vision.

Older students bring life experience – they can see what authors are on about, how their minds work. Young ones are quicker and brighter and do get A’s, but they have tunnel vision. They see everything in black and white. (Rose)

Fewer distractions, ability to focus more, hormonal level zilch and I can spell. (May)

Don and John considered that older students could get on better with the university staff. Rae said that study keeps you mentally alert – “otherwise you would seize up like an old car”. In a more practical vein, several interviewees mentioned that students 60-plus had more time and fewer family demands to cope with. However these barriers were not completely absent.

There were a few comments about attitudes towards older people at university. Some felt a lack of opportunity to draw upon their experience or have opinions respected. Others found that relationships with younger lecturers could be difficult –

You can seem presumptuous and making things difficult. (Chris)

 Young people are embarrassed to tell older people what to do or feel they will become domineering. (Don)

Only Geraldine, however, felt that she had suffered seriously from ageism and sexism –

Members of staff do not take one as seriously as younger students. Mentoring is not as available for older students in my experience.

Thus, apart from accepting the physical and mental effects of age, the 60-plus students did not perceive any greater barriers to educational involvement than people in the 40-59 age group, and their attitudes were equally positive.

Outcomes of study

Apart from a boost to confidence and self-esteem, what else emerged from the experiences of the 60-plus group at Victoria University?

Gaining a qualification

It has been assumed that older learners are not interested in qualifications, grades and competition. This did not ring true in the Victoria University study. Retired people may want qualifications for personal accomplishment and satisfaction.

I achieved more than I expected of myself. It’s the satisfaction of achieving a degree and pleasure of study. Without a purpose I would rot away. (Laura)

The qualification is not important but it is important to finish for my self-esteem. (Katherine)

A smaller group felt that the degree was not an end in itself –

A BA is not important but I can’t see the point of flogging your way up there (to university) without there being something at the end. (Sheila)

Or even that it had become devalued –

It is not important for me to get a degree – a BA doesn’t have the aura it had years ago. It means nothing now; it’s not rare. (Chris)

Further Study

Many of the interviewees had considered that they were “not very bright”, but proved otherwise.  Several regretted not having studied more when they were younger. But this did not deter them from further study. Rose, Sheila and Joan were considering embarking on PhDs, but all had some reservations, in terms of their abilities, energy and financial resources. Others were contemplating further courses on an ad hoc basis. For example, Chris was seeking to move out from language study into (to him) more challenging areas such as philosophy and linguistics.

Advice to other older students

The respondents were asked what advice they would give to older people contemplating university study. The overall response was unequivocal encouragement.

Do it now. You don’t get any younger. (Katherine)

Go for it. Life begins at university. You can do it! (May)



[1] See Davey, J., Neale, J. and Morris Matthews, K. (Eds.) (2003) Living and Learning: Experiences of

University after Age 40.  Wellington, Victoria University Press.


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University Study in Retirement – Choices and Balance

Judith A. Davey


Why university study? Many of the 60-plus interviewees in our Victoria University study[1], who had not previously been at university expressed a long-held desire for study at this level, and for those who had been before it was an obvious choice for learning. Several people had tried distance learning but found it isolating and others were not satisfied by community-based classes. There were several comments on U3A courses, which were seen as low level and non-participatory.

Why study at all and why these subjects?

These questions are difficult to separate. For some interviewees the answer was a desire to pursue an interest of very long standing – either work-related, a hobby, or an aspect of personal experience. Work-related interests were not to the fore, although Don was taking BCA to update his accountancy skills and Katherine and Carl chose courses relating back to their careers as a political writer and a chaplain. Building on a long-term hobby was the motive for John. He had been playing the clarinet for 30 years and now he was retired he wanted to know more about the technical aspects of music so that he could adapt and arrange music for his group of amateur players. Lillian’s interest in art sprang originally from a paper on the Renaissance which was part of her history degree in the 1950s.

For some interviewees, the desire to study arose out of a comparatively recent interest. Trevor’s developed almost accidentally. Going to a recreational class on Polynesian dance led to university courses in Pacific languages and then a BA in anthropology and linguistics. Three years after her retirement, Diana went on a continuing education tour to Greece and Italy but was frustrated that she did not know more about what she was seeing. She went back to complete a degree in Classics. Experiences in other countries provided the impetus for some people. Chris went back to Italy to see people and places which he knew from the war and returned with a strong interest in learning Italian.

For several women, their most recent period of study represented a natural progression from earlier academic work. Laura picked up from her (1940s) studies in Latin and German and went on to complete an MA and a PhD. Geraldine completed her BA part-time while working and later an honours degree in English and Philosophy. When she moved into tutoring she was told she needed an MA. Rae is now working on an MA in Women’s Studies after completing her BA which she began in her 40s following the breakdown of her marriage.

How did study fit into life in retirement?

Did it provide a substitute for paid work? Several of those interviewed had very structured lives, of which study was only one part. Chris rose early and retired at 10, “regular as clockwork.” Others were clear that study provided structure in their lives. Deirdre had a work schedule, with breaks to buy a paper, do the crossword, meditate, walk and have a snooze. Some of the interviewees clearly saw university study as a job substitute and a means of giving structure to their lives –

After working for so long I could get lazy, so it’s good to have a routine. I go in 4 times a week – I just do it. (Susan)

 The University is “my club”. I come in most days and spend time socialising in the quad.  I sit in front at lectures and meet older students that way. (Don)

 The concept of study as a substitute for work can be carried further. Where people filled their lives with activity in retirement, they actually granted themselves “holidays” from it. Like paid work, the demands of study, even though freely chosen, can become onerous. Diana hinted at this –

Study does give structure to my life and this is important. I like the lectures, having lunch with people, getting out of the house, even the trip in to university by bus. It is good to understand what people are doing, not to feel shut out of the world. But sometime it’s a bit like slavery.

 She likened the completion of her degree to a second retirement, which she was sure she would manage better than her first.

Family and caring work occupied several of the interviewees, especially the women. Deirdre had 17 grandchildren, and some visited her daily. She found interruptions to her study bothersome, but she co-operated to enjoy the social contact.  Rose’s grandchildren also frequently came to stay – “I feel guilty when I have to say no to them when I have an essay due”. Grace was caring for her husband, who was severely limited by arthritis. She fitted her study around his needs, calling it “working in the cracks”.

All these examples show how people felt the need to remain busy in retirement, substituting study and other activities for career occupations, with overtones of a moral imperative. Nina made this clear –

I don’t find happiness in gambling (playing mah-jong) as my peers do. It’s a waste of time, I would rather read. Study gives me an aim and something to look forward to.


[1] See Davey, J., Neale, J. and Morris Matthews, K. (Eds.) (2003) Living and Learning: Experiences of University after Age 40.  Wellington, Victoria University Press

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University Study in Retirement – What influences people?

Judith A. Davey


Why would people in their sixties and beyond become university students? Surely work-related motives for study are left behind once people retire? Theories of human ageing can be useful in approaching these questions.


Status in our societies is mostly achieved through occupational prestige. After retirement this is difficult to maintain. The “identity crisis” theory of retirement, suggests that loss of occupational identity can be socially debilitating.  This assumes that paid work is the dominant factor in identity and that lost roles cannot be replaced. It is a very male interpretation of changes surrounding retirement and under-estimates other aspects of life such as family, friendships, unpaid and community work and leisure activities. Few people rest their entire identity on a single role.

Continuity and Substitution

The alternative ‘continuity’ theory suggests that people seek substitutes for activities left behind by ageing. Social contacts with family and friends or new activities such as leisure and education may be substituted for paid work, serving the same needs for self-esteem. Strands of life from the past may be resumed, interwoven and adapted. Substitution and continuity theory provide an alternative to the “disengagement theory” which gives a somewhat negative view of ageing, suggesting that it is a time of withdrawal from life.

What experiences and knowledge can people draw from to make these selections and adaptations? Work history, both paid and unpaid, is one influence. Family history and local culture are other important sources of continuity.

The 60-plus Group at Victoria University[1]

These ideas can be illustrated by the experiences of – students at Victoria University aged 60 plus, showing how study can contribute to maintaining a positive identity in retirement. People aged 60 plus represented a very small proportion of students at Victoria University who came into our study – only one in every 300; 21 were interviewed in depth, with ages ranging from 60 to 82.

Early education and influences on educational choices

Their initial education dated back to the 1930s and 1940s. Seven were early school leavers; some went straight into degree courses, but not all finished them at that stage; others went into some type of professional training, including nursing and teaching, or began “on-the-job” or apprenticeship training.

Gender expectations were prevalent at the time and could cut across class. Sheila’s father was an accountant and she attended private girl’s school[2]. But her parents didn’t think that further education was important for a girl. Neither of Katherine’s parents had any secondary education. She gained School Certificate, but left school at 16 and took up typing because her parents could not afford to support her and her brother in education.

Parental aspirations could be more encouraging. Some working class parents were ambitious for their children. Trevor’s father was a farm worker. When he passed his scholarship for grammar school there was debate about whether he should take it up. His father thought he ought to go to work – further education would be too expensive. His mother disagreed and her view prevailed.

Decisions about leaving school and further education were also influenced by work opportunities. In the 1950s and 60s in New Zealand there was a labour shortage; jobs were easy to obtain and replace.

The Second World War affected many of the interviewees and their educational prospects. Rose’s father was killed when she was four. Her mother was left very poorly off with three girls to rear. So Rose had to leave school and go to work. Grace and Chris were nearing school-leaving age when the war began. Grace’s parents wanted her to go to university, but she opted for teacher training as more practical. Chris had intended to begin a law degree but instead left school, joined the army and did two years officer training. Before the end of the war, at age 19, he was with an engineering corps in Italy.

Subsequent Education

Some interviewees had long gaps in their education. Laura took her law degree, but did no other study from her early twenties until well after her retirement. Sheila completed four units of accountancy immediately after school, but did not go back to formal study until she left work.

For several, especially the men, ongoing study was encouraged as part of their careers. Examples include Trevor in personnel management; Chris (army), Carl (church ministry) and several of the female teachers. Others, however, made a personal effort to study. Lillian abandoned her MA when she married, but took extra-mural papers while she was at home with her children. Joan gave up her music degree for similar reasons, but took continuing education music courses while caring for her family.


The group’s experience of retirement was variable. Some reached a set retirement age for their workplace or negotiated an agreed time with their employers. Others were less willing to give up work. Diana left teaching at 63 after feeling pressure from her colleagues who thought that younger people needed the work. Grace remained in distance education until she was 72, when a requirement to upskill seemed like a signal to go.

Some people started their courses very soon after retirement, but others delayed their studies for several years. For Deirdre the trigger was the death of her husband, when she was 73.

Four interviewees were already studying at university level at the time of retirement. For John and May this was overtly “in anticipation of retirement.” Susan and Grace were working part-time on their BAs, over a number of years. Several did not consider themselves retired. However all were working only part-time and had either left or did not have a career job.

So why university study? This will be covered in my next blog.


[1] See Davey, J., Neale, J. and Morris Matthews, K. (Eds.) (2003) Living and Learning: Experiences of

University after Age 40.  Wellington, Victoria University Press.

[2] The interviewees have all been given pseudonyms for reasons of confidentiality.

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