Employers consider employees ‘old’ at age 58.5

According to a study by the Ministry of Employment’ statistics arm, Dares, the attitude of French employers towards older workers has changed: employers now believe an employee is ‘old’ at age 58.5 compared with 55 in a similar study carried out in 2001. However, the study also found that employers are not concerned about the increasing proportion of older people in their workforce as over 80% of those questioned were considering adopting measures tailored to these workers.

An employee is ‘old’ at age 60

According to a study (in French, 405Kb PDF) published by Dares – the Ministry of Employment’s Office for Research and Statistics – in September 2010, 58.5 is now the average age at which a majority of employers in France consider their employees to be ‘old’.

This age is below the minimum legal age of retirement in the private sector, which stands at 60 and is due to be increased gradually to 62 as a result of the government’s pension reform in October 2010. It is also below the average age at which workers retire in the private sector (61.5 in 2009).

The study, L’enquête sur la gestion des salariés de 50 ans ou plus (EGS50 ), was based on a sample of 4,492 organisations with more than 50 workers questioned between November 2008 and February 2009.

In a survey (in French, 82Kb PDF) conducted by Dares in 2001, two-thirds (66%) of employers felt that an employee was ‘old’ at 55 compared with 44% who feel the same way today. This decline is significant and represents a reduction of 22 percentage points between 2001 and 2008, demonstrating the general acceptance by employers that workers are able to work for longer (as analysed by the business daily Les Echos (in French) on 7 September 2010). The 2001 study was based on the so-called ESSA (L’enquête emploi des salariés selon l’âge) study of 3,000 companies from across the private sector employing 10 workers or more undertaken between January and April 2001.

But at the same time as the statutory retirement age is being increased in France to 62 years, employers still regard 60 as the upper limit of working age. This is illustrated by the finding in the new study that 86% of employers still consider an employee ‘old’ at 60 – only slightly lower than the 91% who did so in 2001.

Employers do not fear increase in older workers

There is increasing recognition by French employers that older workers will form part of their workforce. A quarter of companies (with at least 10 employees) expect an increase in the proportion of employees aged 50 years and over in the coming five years and the evidence suggests that employers do not fear this growing trend. Indeed 70% believe this increase in the age of their workforce will have positive effects in terms of:

  • experience of personnel;
  • corporate collective ‘memory’ or ‘know-how’;
  • transmission of knowledge and skills between individuals.

The number of employers who are concerned about the negative consequences of an increase in the average age of their workforce has fallen in recent years. In 2001, a third of employers (33%) felt such an increase would have negative effects on labour productivity whereas less than 15% felt the same way in 2008. In addition, only 39% of employers in 2008 associated the ageing of their workforce with an increase in labour costs compared with 47% nine years earlier.

Experience versus less capacity to change

Although 54% of employers believe that early retirement can meet the expectations of older workers, 75% are aware that a policy to maintain the employment of older workers can enhance their company’s image. Over 80% of those employers who anticipate a rise in the proportion of workers aged 50 years and over in their workforce in the next five years said they had considered introducing specific measures of one kind or another (see table).

Measures considered by employers to deal with greater proportion of older workers*
Measure Percentage of employers questioned
Training 50
Adaptations to working conditions 48
Adaptations to working time (part time, etc.) 46
Incentives to create internal mobility 38
Departure from the company through: 27
Early retirement 18
External mobility 15
Redundancy 5
No measure considered 19

Note: * Increase in the proportion of workers aged 50 years and over in the workforce over the next five years

Source: Defresne et al, 2010

In addition, more than three-quarters of private sector employers believe that experience, expertise and dedication are qualities found among older rather than younger employees. The availability and motivation of older workers are also highlighted by nearly half of employers questioned as being positive characteristics of employing them. But when compared with younger workers, employers believe that older workers have less capacity to adapt to change (34%) or to new technologies (42%). Other problems associated with older workers, cited by one in five employers, are wage costs, mobility and health.


Employers have to deal with the increase in older workers in France. The two studies demonstrate that employers are becoming more aware about this trend and are starting to take it into account in their human resource (HR) policies. However, early retirement schemes are still used and favoured by the social partners as illustrated by the early retirement plan recently proposed by the car manufacturer Renault for its older workforce (54 or older).


Defresne, M., Marioni, P. and Thévenot, C., ‘L’opinion des employeurs sur les seniors: les craintes liées au viellissement s’atténuent (405Kb PDF)’, Dares Analyses, No. 55, September 2010.

Minni, C. and Topiol, A., ‘Les entreprises se préoccupent peu du vieillissement démographique (82Kb PDF)’, Dares Premières Synthèses, No. 15.1, April 2002.

Frédéric Turlan, Hera

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