Employment of older workers and lifelong learning

Employment of older workers is a vital and complex question. The subject should include issues of education and lifelong learning, motivation, and health. In Hungary, changes in employment structures and in attitudes are essential to achieve EU targets. A 2005 report outlines recommendations for promoting lifelong learning.

The European Commission adopted its Employment Guidelines (136Kb; pdf) in 2003. The fifth of its 10 specific guidelines seeks to increase labour supply and promote active ageing. According to the guidelines, employment of the 55-64 age group must be increased from 40% to 50% by 2010; in Hungary, it currently stands at 25.6%.

In 2002, 59.7% of the 15-64 year old population (women: 54.8%, men: 65.2%) were in the labour market in Hungary, compared with 69.9% in the former EU15. Economic activity among the 50-60 year old population is 43% in Hungary and 55% in the EU15. However, there are high levels of economic activity among both Hungarian men and women in the 45-49 age group. In total, among the 45-64 age group, 51.4% were employed. One reason for this relatively high figure is that there are more workers in the agriculture sector in Hungary: 8.7% of 55-64 year olds work in agriculture, compared with a 7% EU average. Some 30.4% of employees in this age group work in manufacturing and construction (EU: 26%), and 61% work in the service sector (EU: 67%). In Hungary, the latter mainly refers to the financial services sector.

Importance of older workers

Without changes in employment structures, the increase in Europe’s ageing population will result in a smaller proportion of employees having to support the growing number of people who are not working. Although it is becoming increasingly clear that older workers must be encouraged to remain in the workforce, this is not an easy target to achieve. In Hungary, in 2002, the average retirement age was 58 years for women and 61 years for men. Some governmental measures have been put in place, but so far they are imperceptible in the everyday life of the working population, including that of employers and employees.

The employment of older workers encompasses many facets such as those relating to education and lifelong learning, motivation (of employers and employees), and health (especially of workers over the age of 45).

Employers generally avoid employing people over 50 years old. At the same time, many workers in these age groups look forward to some form of social security benefit (pension, disability pension) as early as possible, and may also want to secure a supplementary income. Clearly, the employment structure for older workers has become obsolete. As a result, the government is trying to update legislation to help encourage the employment of older workers. It is anticipated that great pressure will be put on the labour market to employ older workers, particularly from 2010 onwards. It is timely, therefore, that measures relating to employees over the age of 45 years be instigated soon, so that the possibilities for increasing their numbers in the labour market will be enhanced in the years ahead.

Educational profile of older workers

Employability is enhanced through higher education, which in turn helps to encourage lifelong learning. However, the education level of the 45-64 age group is lower than that among younger age groups.

Nevertheless, over 62% of 45-64 year olds with a secondary educational level are working. Among those with a higher education, 75% of 45-64 year olds and one third of 60-64 year olds also work. Indeed, employees in a management position requiring higher education are mostly between 45 and 55 years old.

Level of education, by age group, 2002 (%)
Level of education, by age group, 2002 (%)
Education: Age group
25-29 45-49 50-54 55-59 60-64 45-64
Primary 17.0 25.8 29.3 40.3 65.3 37.9
Secondary 67.3 59.0 57.1 46.1 23.3 48.5
High 15.5 15.2 13.6 13.6 11.5 13.6
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

Source: Secondary analysis of the workforce study’s data

In order to respond to the challenges of economic, cultural and technical developments, however, new solutions should be created to encourage lifelong learning. For example, the number of participants in adult learning who are over 45 years old could be increased by developing formal adult education techniques, and also through an increase in non-institutionalised learning/education types.

Recommendations for lifelong learning among older age groups

In a 2005 report, senior researcher Judit Adler notes that advances in adult learning are just beginning in Hungary. To support the training of adults over the age of 45 years, a system needs to be created which:

  • allows for the creation of an education structure that suits the demands of the economy;
  • ensures the individual’s freedom in choosing between the training/education possibilities;
  • enables access to training and to necessary funding;
  • ensures equality in different types of training, and contributes to social partnership, and mobilisation of individual and public resources;
  • is transparent and ensures honest and direct use of budgetary sources, harmonising this with use of public finances;
  • supports equal opportunities.


Adler, J., A 45 éven felüliek foglalkoztatási helyzete - Vezetői összefoglaló (Employment status of workers over the age of 45 years - a summary for managers), 2005, http://www.ofakht.hu/muh/muhelyvitak/0502/ofaadler.htm (in Hungarian).

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