At what age do you reach your peak?
When people should retire is a burning question. In the field of sports it is easier to measure an individual’s “peak.” With Saurav Ganguly for instance, the writing has been on the wall for some time now. Although no one can deny his mental strengths, the balance between the physical and mental had to be struck.
Mental capacities are harder to evaluate…who can say when exactly a person reaches his mental peak? Take the example of Shane Warne. He may not be at his peak physically, but his mental toughness and leadership qualities brought him success in the last IPL.
What about other professions where there is less emphasis on physical skills? What are mental skills anyway? Here is a tentative list – and yes, sports people would need most of these too, in addition to their physical skills.
- Ability to grasp ideas and concepts
- Good memory
- Mental alertness
- Judgment– experience adds to this ability
- Ability to take quick decisions – again experience helps here
- Ability to withstand and work under pressure
- Creative abilities
You use your mind and it keeps in shape, just like your body does. And while mental abilities start to deteriorate with age, like physical abilities, when it happens varies with different people. It can happen at any point in a person’s life. Even at 35. If a person does a dead end job and does not bother to keep up with mental pursuits it can happen…diet and biological factors also play a role.
And a lot depends on what ability an individual has to begin with. Even creativity is not a prerogative of the young… Leonardo Da Vinci painted Mona Lisa at 60.
Bias against older people
Even though mental ability is difficult to measure and can remain intact well into the person’s sixties, there is a bias against older people. If one had to generalise, then perhaps more youngsters have a sharper memory and a greater alertness level as compared to those above 50, but do they necessarily have better judgment as well? Are they better decision makers as well? If not, then defining mental peak becomes difficult…because it all depends on what kind of mental abilities are required on the job.
At one time in India the bias worked the other way. Youngsters (below the age of 25) were considered greenhorns and therefore it was the “wiser” older people who were considered “better” at their jobs. But I strongly disagree with this idea as well. Many young people have excellent judgment and decision making ability. In fact any assumption that an older person has more sense irritates me.
The bias against older people has something to do with personality traits as well. I am listing a few which people feel could be in short supply in older people:
Ability to listen
Being open to new ideas and to change
A democratic style of management
Calmness and control
Do older people (45+) have fewer of these qualities as compared to younger people? I don’t think so, but why else are organisations hesitating to hire them? I have personally seen rigidity (of mind) across all age-groups. If you come across a rigid sixty year old, it’s worth finding out what he/she was like at 30.
In fact it is thought that the “mature” brain is “better able to access right and left brain simultaneously and more fully…The mature brain benefits from developmental intelligence, which [has been] defined as the maturing of cognition, emotional intelligence, judgment, social skills, life experience, and consciousness and their integration and synergy…”
Demand vs supply
Take a look at the graph below. More than half our population is young…and I think that could be the reason for the bias against older people in India. Young people are available in plenty and as people believe that those over 40 are over the hill (unless they are applying for a job as CEO), youngsters are preferred.
Barely 15 percent of our population works beyond retirement age today, and even in the future this figure is not likely to change drastically. In fact most of those working beyond retirement age have their own businesses or are employed in family owned enterprises.
ThIs is in contrast to those in the UK and the USA. According to U.S. Census figures, one out of five men over 65 is in a paid job . And in the UK, the number of working people beyond the retirement age is set to double (over 1 million are already working beyond the state pension age) over the next five years. And about 80 percent of Japanese are believed to work beyond retirement age. But then their population graphs look different:
(All these graphs are from the US Census and at the site you can get the latest population graphs of all countries of the world, now and projected)
(Tomorrow is Dasera and it will be a holiday for this blog. I wish all my readers a very happy Dasera)