A sabbatical immediately after retirement? Or post-career counselling? François Höpflinger researches ageing and provided us with some interesting facts about pensioners in Switzerland.

Professor Höpflinger, how satisfied are pensioners in Switzerland?

All surveys show that pensioners are, on average, happier than people who are still working. This is primarily due to the elimination of stress factors. The vast majority are financially secure. There’s no evidence of people experiencing “retirement shock”, except maybe for managers who no longer have a secretary to do everything for them. However, this high level of satisfaction does not only have positive aspects. Here in Switzerland, people are so content that they no longer realise that they’re losing skills.

What skills are you referring to?

The working world has both positive and negative sides. Things at work can often go against the grain. While this can be negative, it also encourages the development of new skills and fosters resilience. In addition, work gives a certain structure to everyday life. If that disappears, this lack of structure must be overcome in some cases.

Are there other challenges that retired people in Switzerland often face?

Some people set their expectations too high. They want to search for their inner self and end up finding nothing. Another point is finances: if you have more time, you also have more time to spend money. This means that your expenses tend to be higher, although your income is usually lower than before.

An older man sits at a table in front of a laptop, pointing to something on the screen. He smiles at the camera. The man has grey hair and is wearing glasses and a blue sweater.
All surveys show that pensioners are, on average, happier than people who are still working.

What about couples? Is it a cliché that retired couples tend to get on each other’s nerves?

The challenge here is that there are more and more couples who are no longer retiring at the same time. In other words, where one person works much longer than the other. This can lead to discrepancies in life planning, both privately and financially.

Aren’t there courses you can take to prepare for all these challenges?

So far, it has not been scientifically proven that courses of this kind have a clear impact. Because this is what happens: many people have a stressful job and are happy when they retire. The problems often only arise two or three years after retiring. So there are courses that prepare you for retirement, but no follow-up seminars.

What do you mean by that?

When you retire, you first need some time to recover. You might think of it as a sabbatical. After a year or two, post-career counselling may be useful. This could be similar to career counselling, which also takes into account new and old interests. However, this also requires the availability of suitable education and training opportunities. Although some projects along these lines are in place, they are not supported. In Switzerland, we do not yet have an education policy for people over the age of 65. No scholarships, either. That’s definitely still missing.

With regard to the concept of self-determination – isn’t retirement also a huge opportunity to reinvent yourself?

Definitely. Many underestimate the variety of possibilities open to them. I keep hearing stories from people who are doing something completely new. A gerontologist is now travelling around Turkey and Iran. A UBS manager is now a mountain guide. A woman who’d had a white collar job trained to be a private detective after she retired. But not everyone wants that. Some people just want to work in their garden, which is also fine.

An older man stands by a door frame and looks into the camera. He’s wearing a shirt with a blue sweater over it.
I keep hearing stories from people who are doing something completely new. A gerontologist is now travelling around Turkey and Iran. A UBS manager is now a mountain guide. A woman who’d had a white collar job trained to be a private detective after she retired.

How is preparing for retirement different from preparing for old age?

These are indeed two different issues. Retirement is a clearly defined phase, and you have to be guided first and foremost by your financial situation. The majority of pensioners are not old at all. Ageing, on the other hand, is a process. The question is whether you can prepare for it at all, or whether you adapt continuously where you can.

How well are pensioners in Switzerland actually doing, by international comparison?

Compared to other European countries, a large number of pensioners in Switzerland are financially secure, have a good standard of living, and many feel subjectively very healthy. There are countries with significantly lower quality of life scores in retirement age. In many countries, people cannot afford to stop working, like in Bulgaria or Romania. It follows, then, that life satisfaction amongst older people is lower there. In Switzerland, and in neighbouring regions as well – Vorarlberg and southern Germany – many seniors are involved in creative and artistic activities, and there is also a great deal of neighbourly assistance. This is not the case in all countries. In Switzerland, we probably have the most active young pensioners, apart from the Netherlands and southern Germany.

Let’s look to the future: what challenges will pensioners face in the coming decades?

The challenges are more societal than personal. A 65+ education policy is likely to be developed. Incidentally, this would also help to minimise the risk of dementia. In addition, we need to more actively integrate pensioners’ expertise into the working world. Many industries would not function at all without the contributions of pensioners. Family businesses as well.

You were born in 1948. You haven’t had to work for a while now. Why do you do it anyway?

When I turned 65, I was involved in so many networks and projects that it just never occurred to me to stop. I also have the privilege of having demographic and methodological knowledge that very few specialists have. Statistical knowledge allows me, for example, to make current evaluations from the 2022 health survey about how many older people are lonely, whether they experience stress and what the reasons are. If you have a “knowledge monopoly”, you can continue until you’re 90. This is also the case with jobs like restorers or certain rose breeders.

You really didn’t feel like quitting?

For me, it really was the case that the question of motivation didn’t come up at all. This might be an exceptional situation.

What other research questions about retirement would you like to answer in your career?

I’m interested in the question I asked earlier: I would very much like to find out whether retirement preparation courses are really of any use and how they need to be designed to have an impact.

Blick über die Schulter eines älteren Mannes. Dieser hält ein Buch in der Hand mit dem Titel «Familienglück – was ist das?».

The gerontologist

François Höpflinger is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Zurich. His research focuses on intergenerational relationships, care in old age, work in later phases of life and housing in the second half of life. For internet studies on these subjects, visit hoepflinger.com


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