Ageing workforce

20 September 2017

Europe's ageing population raises many challenges for policymakers in relation to employment, working conditions, living standards and welfare. It has led to concerns over the sustainability of pension systems and the supply of labour. Promoting employment opportunities for an ageing workforce requires new thinking at company, national and EU level.

Despite substantial growth in the employment rates of older workers over the past decade in many EU countries, the European Commission’s Joint Employment Report 2017 highlights the potential to increase these rates further. In 2016, the employment rate for older workers aged 55–64 in the EU stood at 55.3%, compared with 66.6% for those aged 15–64 as a whole. The increase has been largest among older women.

The European Pillar of Social Rights provides a framework for helping labour markets adapt to new challenges while promoting fairness and solidarity between the generations. It emphasises the right to a working environment adapted to a worker’s professional needs to enable them to prolong their participation in the labour market. Moreover, the recent European social partners’ autonomous agreement on active ageing and inter-generational approach commits to making it easier for older workers to actively participate and stay longer in the labour market.

Eurofound’s work

Eurofound has a long history of expertise in issues facing the ageing workforce. Research since the 1990s has focused on labour market participation, job performance, working conditions and work preferences of older workers in the policy context of Europe's changing demographic profile. Work has also centred on public support and company-level initiatives fostering older workers’ employment. It has looked at older women workers, highlighting the increasing employment rates for this group and their increasing proportion of the workforce, especially in the 55–64 age group.

Survey data

Eurofound’s major surveys provide a range of data on the situation of older workers. The sixth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) looks at how older workers compare across different dimensions of job quality. Although older workers are less likely to become unemployed than younger ones, data show that older workers feel that if they became unemployed, they would not find a similarly paid new job and would even find it difficult to re-enter the labour market.

A study based on Eurofound’s fifth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) looks at the characteristics of the older workforce and of work at different ages, as well as the factors that make work sustainable for an ageing workforce: good working conditions, physical and mental well-being, and work–life balance.

Eurofound’s European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) offers age-related findings in relation to various dimensions of quality of life in Europe. An analysis of work preferences after 50 draws on findings from the third EQLS and shows that many older workers prefer to work fewer hours even after taking into account their financial needs. Facilitating this closer alignment of working hours with preferences can enable and motivate people to work longer.

Longer working lives

Recently, Eurofound joined three other EU agencies in looking at age-friendly work in Europe, the policy challenges associated with the ageing workforce and innovative solutions.

Many workers are unable or not motivated to work until the statutory retirement age. However, there is also a group which is able and willing to work beyond it. Eurofound has investigated this increasing phenomenon of taking up work after retirement.

Recent research has focused on extending working lives through flexible retirement schemes, looking in particular at partial retirement schemes that can facilitate this. Mid-career reviews can also contribute to longer working lives. Research has examined how they can help to clarify workers’ options for remaining in work until a later retirement age. It highlights different instruments developed by companies to retain ageing workers.

Other research documents national and sectoral initiatives by governments and social partners to retain older workers in the labour market, including financial inducements and enhanced conditions. In an earlier project, age management initiatives introduced before and after the recession were analysed to highlight good practice in companies in Europe.

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