Eurobarometer survey examines active ageing

A new Eurobarometer survey examined active ageing in the EU, including attitudes to the workplace, career end and pensions. Barriers to older workers functioning in the labour market included a lack of training, a lack of flexibility to reduce working hours, and negative perceptions on the part of employers. The overall view was that the retirement age should be equal for men and women, but that individuals should be allowed to work beyond retirement age if they wished.

About the survey

In January 2012, the European Commission issued a Eurobarometer survey on active ageing (8.9Mb PDF) as part of the 2012 European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. The survey is based on the responses of 31,280 individuals in the EU27 and five other countries (Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Norway and Turkey) between September and November 2011. The survey was carried out using face-to-face interviews in people’s homes, using a questionnaire in the national language. Random sampling was used.

Barriers faced by older workers

Looking specifically at barriers faced by older people in the workplace, the survey found that the main obstacles were:

  • a lack of opportunities to allow older workers to reduce their working hours gradually (viewed as ‘very important’ by 25% of respondents and ‘important’ by 47% of respondents);
  • the exclusion of older workers from training in the workplace (viewed as ‘very important’ by 26% of respondents and ‘important’ by 45% of respondents);
  • older workers not being viewed positively by employers (viewed as ‘very important’ by 27% of respondents and ‘important’ by 43% of respondents).

There were variations in response according to country and sometimes also according to sociodemographic group. For example, women were overall more likely than men to cite care of grandchildren as an obstacle to remaining in the labour market. Managers and those who were well-off economically were less likely to cite any of the barriers given above compared with those in other groups and those who were less well-off.

Advantages of older workers

In terms of the advantages of workers aged 55 or above, they were generally perceived by survey respondents to be more experienced (87% of respondents said that this was ‘much’ or ‘somewhat’ more likely) and more reliable than their younger counterparts (67% of respondents said that this was ‘much’ or ‘somewhat’ more likely).

In country terms, the survey found that people from Ireland tended to be most positive about the characteristics of older people in the workplace, with respondents from Slovenia being the most negative. Older people tended to be more positive about the characteristics of older workers than their younger colleagues.

Expectations for career end

In terms of people’s expectations for the end of their career, the majority of respondents said that they expected to be capable of working until they are in their 60s: 70% said that they expected to be able to do their current job until they were at least 60. There is a difference in response depending on occupation, with the average age at which respondents felt they would still be able to do their job put at 59.9 years in the case of manual workers, 61.8 for white-collar workers, 63.2 for managers and 64.9 for self-employed workers.

Retirement and pensions

The survey found general disagreement with a different retirement age for men and women. A majority disagreed with the idea that the retirement age for women should be higher due to the fact that women take career breaks to look after children (81%) or because women live longer (83%). However, 62% also disagreed that the retirement age for women should be lower because women tend to be younger than their partners. However, there was a more even split on whether women’s retirement age should be lower to allow them to take care of grandchildren or dependent relatives (48% agreed and 47% disagreed).

When asked whether they thought that their retirement age in their country needed to increase by 2030, 60% said that it did not. However, there was variation by country in the responses, with those in the former EU15 countries more likely to agree that the retirement age needed to rise and those in the newer Member States more likely to disagree.

When asked whether they thought that people should be allowed to continue to work past the official retirement age if they wanted to, 61% thought that they should and 33% said they should stop working. There were large differences between national responses, ranging from 93% of respondents in Denmark and 91% in the Netherlands saying that people should be able to carry on working, to 71% in Greece and 66% in Slovenia saying that people should stop working when they reach retirement age.

However, the survey also found that 54% of respondents did not want to continue working once they were entitled to a pension. There was also strong support (65% of respondents) for combining part-time work with a partial pension as a full alternative to full retirement.

A total of 53% of respondents felt that there should not be a compulsory retirement age, with 41% saying that there should. Of those advocating a compulsory retirement age, the average age cited was 64 years.


The interesting findings from this survey offer guidance to European policymakers when dealing with pensions and the ageing population, currently key issues for the EU labour market and European society as a whole. It would appear that some work needs to be done around the perceptions that:

  • training is not offered to older workers,
  • older workers are not given the flexibility necessary to enable them to remain in the workplace longer;
  • employers may view older workers less positively than their younger colleagues.

Older workers clearly have an important contribution to make to the labour market in terms of their skills and experience. One policy option when looking at end of career is to promote partial retirement, which would appear to be viewed positively by survey respondents.


TNS Opinion & Social (2011), Active ageing (8.9Mb PDF), Special Eurobarometer 378, European Commission, Brussels.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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