Academic Literature, Report

Extend Working Lives – Employment profiles of ageing workers in Canada, Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom

In most countries, rising life expectancy creates opportunities to extend working lives beyond 65 years. Yet little is known regarding who already works past this age and any social differentials that may exist. In the present study, we address this gap by describing employment profiles of ageing workers in four different welfare states– Canada, Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom (UK).

The push to extend working lives

Many countries are developing policies to encourage older workers to remain in paid employment, thus delaying retirement [1], to reduce the burden on societies related to disability benefits or pension payments [2]. In the European Union, the old age dependency ratio (the number of older people as a proportion of those of working age) is expected to rise to 38% by 2030 [3]. Extending working lives may also improve the living conditions of older workers, through higher pension levels. While it is outside the scope of this paper to argue whether employment past 65 years of age is good or bad, we recognise that employment is one factor noted in the public health literature contributing to healthy ageing and a key priority of most governments [4].

Despite the policy push to work past 65 years and older, little evidence on inequalities exists about who remains in employment. We aim to address this gap by identifying inequalities in employment rates among older workers aged 65–75 years focusing mainly on those aged 65–69years. While several factors may influence the decision to extend ones working life [3], an obvious fac- tor is poor health. Poor health could force a person to exit employment even if they would prefer to continue working [5]. Indeed, evidence shows that health is a key determinant of early retirement [6]. Another important factor is sex. Studies show that, in general, employment rates are lower among women than men [7, 8]. This might indicate greater caring responsibilities for children and older relatives among women than among men. Finally, educational level is another major factor. For example, in Sweden, there are considerable differentials in the length of working life in different occupations. In fact, Nilsson et al. [9] show that workers with lower educational levels tend to leave employment earlier than high educated workers due to health reasons or un- employment. One explanation could be that those with lower levels of education typically have more physically demanding jobs than those with higher levels of educa- tion and therefore their work capacity is more affected by decreases in health than those with higher levels of education [10, 11]. Attempts at extending working lives may therefore potentially further aggravate social differ- entials in employment rates as well as in living conditions. However, a limitation of studies such as Nilsson et al. [9] is that the focus neglects workers older than 65 years. We found only two comparative studies that exam- ine employment rates for those aged 65 years and older [12, 13]. A growing body of literature (see for example [14–16]) about ‘unretirement’ – the process of returning to work after retirement and ‘bridge employment’ (also known as partial employment) – includes our age group of interest but focuses on other aspects such as the mean- ing of work (see for example [17–19]), life satisfaction (see for example [20]) rather than inequalities. Our contribution to the literature is a comparative, public health focused examination of inequalities in employment rates past age 65 years. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to take such an approach.

Our study shows that those most likely to continue working past 65 years of age are high-educated men without a LLI. Overall, our results demonstrate that social differentials exist for older workers in Canada, Denmark, Sweden and the UK. Older workers are a heterogeneous group, and there are many potential reasons for a person choosing to extend working life such as connectivity, caring responsibilities or financial insecurity. Similarly, there may be obstacles to extending working life, not least social inequalities in health and in workability that could be alleviated through workplace accommodations. Further studies are needed to increase the understanding the drivers of extending working lives, in order to inform policy making.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Inequalities in employment rates among older men and women in Canada, Denmark, Sweden and the UK

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