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Growing old on the job - 24/11/2008

Older people typing on computer monitors © EC

As baby boomers reach retirement age, more are staying in the workforce.

Growing numbers of older Europeans are choosing to work longer, reversing the previous trend toward early retirement – a development that could ease Europe’s aging population problem.

A new report shows that employment rates for almost all ages have risen sharply since 2000. This is particularly true for baby boomers – born during the post WWII-population explosion.

Helping older people stay in the workforce and otherwise remain active is one of the EU’s key strategies to tackle the ageing population challenge. Older workers face numerous obstacles, including laws against taking a paid job while collecting a pension and restrictions on certain activities due to insurance concerns. These were among issues discussed this week at the Second European Demography Forum.

With Europeans living longer and having fewer children, the average age is going up. The shift toward an older population has major implications for the economy and society in general. And with baby boomers now reaching retirement age, the issue is becoming much more urgent.

Born between 1946 and 1964, baby boomers have long been the bulk of the workforce. As they grow older, they will need healthcare, pensions, housing, and community care - and on a greater scale than ever. But there will be fewer working-age people to support them.

The working-age population is still growing, but at a rapidly declining rate. In six years, growth is expected to cease, and the number of 20–59-year-olds will begin decreasing – by as much as 1.5 million per year.

Experts agree that keeping baby boomers active and employed is crucial, but how do older people feel about that? Surveys show that one in two Europeans want to work beyond the legal retirement age.

This is quite a change from the 1990s, when early retirement was becoming more popular. In many EU countries, people can stop working when they are as young as 50 if they are willing to settle for a lower pension.

Today that trend has been reversed. The report shows that in 2007, 50% of men and 30% of women were still employed at the age of 60, a share that is 10% more than in 2000.

Read full 2008 demography report

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